LAKELAND — The scenario has played out nearly every day in practice — with Plant needing to make a play in a pivotal moment.
But it had yet to happen here, this season, in this arena, with this much on the line.
In Plant's state semifinal at the Lakeland Center on Friday night, the Panthers hadn't been tested this often in more than a month — forced to trade points deep into the first two games with St. Thomas Aquinas, while knowing they weren't playing their best.
But the Panthers persevered, overcoming the Raiders 25-21, 26-24, 25-17 to move one win away from their third straight state title. Plant will face Lake Howell in today's championship game at 5 p.m.
"I'm glad it's over," Plant coach Leanna Taylor said. "Just a little bit of jitters and acclimation to the environment. … I think we showed some great composure. It was a good test."
Taylor feared the trap of a state semifinal game, especially moving from the intimacy of playing in a gymnasium for more than four months to the spotlight of a cavernous arena. Her Panthers had been here before, and they shook it off.
"This was a tough match because it was all about who was going to make the last unforced errors," said Danielle Erb, who led the Panthers with 13 kills. "It was all about trying to gain composure and get used to the arena because it's a lot different than any other gym anyone really plays in."
Plant (27-3) emerged from a 20-20 tie in the first game then a 24-24 deadlock in the second.
"I think we were in it," St. Thomas Aquinas coach Lisa Zielinski said. "I think we really forced Plant to step it up a bit and earn the points when it mattered."
In theory, it was a test not unlike the ones Taylor sets up in practice, with her first team battling from behind against the Panthers' second team. "We're supposed to love those moments," Taylor said. "That's what we love here."
Junior outside hitter Maddie Martin had 12 kills and senior Ariel Ley added eight. Junior setter Becca Howard had 38 assists.