PALM HARBOR — In its 26 previous matches, Palm Harbor University never faced a defense quite like the one Plant displayed Tuesday in a region semifinal contest between the schools.
One moment, senior outside hitter Cassie Roy was rising for one of her trademark blistering kills only to have the ball blocked back.
Another instant, junior middle Leah McNary soared above the net to send an attack into the open corner but watched helplessly as a Panther smoothly slid over for the dig.
Whatever the Hurricanes threw at the three-time (5A) defending state champion, the Panthers had an answer for in a 25-14, 25-13, 25-16 Plant victory.
"We don't get to play teams like that. It's really hard for us not to be overwhelmed when we haven't seen it," PHU coach Tara Kuk said. "We just couldn't put the ball down on the court when we had a pass and set."
The Panthers' defense limited PHU (23-4) to 11 kills.
"They're so big. It was pretty much a wall every time we tried to attack," Kuk said. "Their middles did a good job of closing the block. There was never a seam."
Plant (26-1) used multiple-point runs in the middle of each game to take control. In Game 1, Plant turned a 10-7 advantage into a 17-7 lead after winning seven points in a row. Ahead 10-6 in Game 2, the Panthers won eight out of 10 points.
And with PHU holding its deepest lead of the night in Game 3 at 10-7, Plant reeled off 12 straight points on Alex Johnson's serve.
"At times, I don't think we shook the last point off and were still thinking about the last point when the next point came," PHU senior outside hitter Cassie Roy said.
Roy and Leah McNary each had four kills to lead the Hurricanes. Roy added 12 digs, and McNary four blocks. PHU sophomore Caitlyn Kovach also had 12 digs, and setter Cassie Wilkinson finished with 19 assists.