LAKELAND — Plant High beat Winter Park on Saturday in Lakeland for the Class 6A state volleyball title, dropping a set but otherwise looking unbothered, unbowed and unbeatable.
You know, the usual.
For those counting at home:
Four straight state championships.
A No. 7 national ranking.
A 29-1 record.
"A dream season," coach Leanna Taylor said.
The best team in Florida?
Just one thing: Some folks are still debating if the Panthers are the best team in Tampa Bay.
Saturday, that debate should have ended.
Oh, sure, you can still make a case for Berkeley Prep. The Bucs always deserve to be in the discussion, and this year is no different.
They won a state title this season, too, in Class 3A.
But the argument for the Bucs just isn't as strong as the one already laid out for Plant, and you can add this: Plant beat Stuart Martin County; Berkeley didn't.
It's all we have to go on.
Shame on both schools for not scheduling a game this season. It should be mandatory, every season, shouldn't it? Or at least as mandatory as Berkeley Prep-Tampa Prep, a rivalry that has seen more competitive days.
We get Plant-Armwood football. Clearwater-Largo basketball. Seminole-Dunedin baseball.
But no Plant-Berkeley Prep volleyball?
This year was an anomaly, just a bad year for one. The teams usually enter the same tournaments or cross paths on the schedule.
This year, through a series of unfortunate circumstances (and depending on which school you want to believe), that didn't happen.
Hence the argument.
"That would be a great match," said Panthers senior setter Becca Howard, who played two seasons of varsity ball at Berkeley before transferring to Plant before her junior season.
Howard thinks the advantage, of course, goes to the Panthers.
Two tough-to-defend outside hitters in Alex Johnson and Maddie Martin, the latter of whom might be the best player in the state, and an airtight defense led by Ali McCurdy give them the edge.
"It would be such a battle," Howard said.
"Oh yeah, we've thought about it," she said. "It would be fun. But I'm pretty happy with how we finished."
A fun battle. Five games, for sure.
But the Florida High School Athletic Association would never let it happen. It's against the rules. The season is over. No more representing your school in volleyball matches.
It would be grand. Battle of the Tampa Titans. Standing room only.
"Oh, no doubt," Howard said, smiling as if for a moment, imagining the thought.
Like the debate over the best team, that discussion is over.
It ended Saturday in Lakeland.
Taylor thinks her team is the best in Florida. She's confident like that, a firm believer that her squad is pretty unstoppable.
Stroking the championship trophy, Taylor smiled.
"This … I'll take the hardware," she said. "The other stuff is just words."
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org