EAST LAKE — All week, Clearwater coach Joe Dixon explored the strengths, weaknesses and tendencies of an opponent he knows intimately.
Three times the Tornadoes had lost to rival East Lake, including a sweep in the district final.
And so when the teams met again in Tuesday's Class 5A region semifinals, Dixon made sure his team was constantly evolving and not making the same mistakes again.
This time, Clearwater made all the right moves, knocking off its fiercest rival with a 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 victory.
"We made a few lineup changes and made sure we were better on serve-receive and block-receive," Dixon said. "We had been close before. The big thing was knowing how to win."
The Tornadoes (17-9) took the Eagles to four games in one match and five in another during the regular season. Tuesday's match figured to be another long battle.
But Clearwater responded by holding on late to pull out close victories in the first two games. In the third game, the Tornadoes jumped out to a 21-15 lead before East Lake cut it to 23-21. Clearwater closed it out with two kills for the final points.
"I'm just in awe," Tornadoes middle blocker Leah Mitchell said. "I thought we'd probably go to five games. I never thought we'd win with a sweep. It was the best match we've played as a team."
Mitchell, who had a team-high 14 kills, was part of a dominant performance by Clearwater at the net. Carey Froelicher and Jennifer Opper also combined for 16 blocks.
"Clearwater showed up to play," said East Lake coach Terry Small, whose team ended its season at 23-5. "We give a lot of points to them. Clearwater earned them. I'm disappointed with the loss, but I'm proud of the way they played."