Durant proved emphatically it is the class of the three Plant City area high school volleyball teams this year.
But a week from now the Cougars' season could be over while Plant City and Strawberry Crest are getting ready for the playoffs.
Such is life in by far the toughest volleyball district in Tampa Bay. Durant on Tuesday raised its record to an impressive 18-4 by sweeping at Plant City -— yet the Cougars are just the fourth seed for next week's Class 8A, District 7 tournament.
All three local teams will be in action early next week and hope to still be playing on Thursday. That's the scheduled date for their respective district finals, and any team that reaches that stage is playoff bound. District champs get to host for at least the first round of the playoffs while the runnerups must travel.
Home court may be a big deal for Durant next week as Cougar fans — assuming Durant wins its tourney opener against Newsome — will be called on to rattle 24-1 Wharton
"Absolutely home court should be a big help," said Durant first-year head coach Brittany Wilson. "We've got a tough path, first Newsome and then Wharton. But we're playing pretty well."
Wharton was undefeated until very recently and is paced by the top player in the district, senior Caci Andreychuk, daughter of former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk.
Durant, Plant and Bloomingdale all ended up tied for second after going 4-2 in district play. They all lost to Wharton and split their matches against one another, with the Cougars falling at Bloomingdale early on in the season. But the Cougars ended up on the wrong end of the three-way tiebreaker based on road wins, only having one in district play.
That means to get to the finals Durant will have to beat Wharton in the Wednesday semis; first up the Cougars must dispose of Newsome in a match set for Tuesday night at 7.
Based on Tuesday's performance against Plant City the Cougars are serious. Though Plant City is having a fine season the Raiders were overmatched.
"Durant hits the ball extremely hard," said Raider head coach Jessica Thornton. "Of course we helped out by not putting up much of an effort on the blocks. Still I feel good about what we're trying to achieve."
Thornton remains excited about her core group of young talent, but the flip side of that is the lack of experience at least for now. The Raiders have no seniors. Junior Alex Arnold and sophomores Noelle Dietrich and Kasi Maguire are their leading hitters.
Plant City (6-6) is the third seed for the 7A-8 tournament and will play Monday at 5 p.m. against bottom-seeded Tampa Bay Tech. Brandon is hosting and is in the other semifinal. Assuming the Raiders win they will take on No. 2 seed Hillsborough in Tuesday's semifinal (also at 5).
That's a match Thornton can't wait for. Hillsborough defeated the Raiders Oct. 11 in a match where Plant City won a game 25-8 but dropped the other three.
"That one took me a while to get over," she said. And Strawberry Crest is geared up for another trip to the postseason. The Chargers are the No. 1 seed in 6A-11 and wlll likely match up with Armwood in the semifinals Tuesday at 5. Strawberry Crest rolled the Hawks in their only regular season meeting.
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]