PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University got together Friday night to give coach Tara Kuk the best birthday gift it could think of.
A sweep of Countryside in the 6A-7 district final.
PHU grabbed the first two games in nailbiting fashion then pounded the Cougars into submission in the third for a 27-25, 28-26, 25-16 victory and its second straight district title.
In the process, the Hurricanes (22-3) beat the Cougars at their own game. They dug nearly every Countryside attack. They ran down every stray ball and just generally outworked the Cougars (23-3).
"We've been working on defense for two weeks," said Kuk, who celebrates her birthday today. "I told them, 'we're not going to lose to Countryside today because they outdefend us.' "
Battling back-and-forth in Game 1, neither team could surge ahead, until, tied at 25, the Hurricanes' Cassie Roy sent a kill into the open court and Countryside's Davionna DiSalvatore was wide with her attack to give PHU a 1-0 lead.
Game 2 was more of the same. PHU briefly enjoyed a 14-10 lead before Countryside began chipping away. Ahead 24-23, the Hurricanes had three chances for a 2-0 lead before finally capitalizing when Chelsea King's kill was true.
"We were trying to be scrappy and aggressive and just go for everything tonight," King said.
PHU opened up an early five-point lead in Game 3. Ahead 20-15, the Hurricanes won four straight points to effectively end any Countryside comeback hopes.
"We made too many mistakes. Our serving was terrible and has been the past three weeks," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said. "It definitely hurt us, especially the first two games."