TAMPA — Weeks ago, volleyball coaches began scouting possible postseason opponents, looking for any edge that could be a key to victory. But for tonight's region semifinals, little homework is needed.
Of the six matches involving county teams, five feature teams — all of them district rivals — that have played each other at least twice. When Bayshore Christian hosts Bradenton Christian tonight, it will mark the fifth time they've met.
"We know what they're about and they know what we're about," said Tampa Prep coach Mike Flynn, whose Terrapins face district rival Indian Rocks Christian for the fourth time. "It helps that we know each other.
"But right now it's like we're 0-0 because we haven't faced them in a playoff situation where it's win or go home. There wasn't that pressure when we faced them before, so there's a whole new set of emotions."
Tonight's region semifinals
All games at 7 p.m.
6A: Plant (25-1) at Palm Harbor U. (19-3)
Past meetings: None
Skinny: The Panthers likely will receive their toughest test since the first weekend of October against the 'Canes, who easily dispatched Brandon in three sets last week. Senior hitter Cassie Roy, the 'Canes' top offensive player and a Mercer recruit, had 22 kills in the win over the Eagles, and setter Cassie Wilkinson is all over the court. Plant's march to its fourth consecutive state championship is led by senior outside hitter Maddie Martin (4.9 kills, 3.0 digs), a Penn State recruit, and senior libero Ali McCurdy (6.6 digs). Add in a supporting cast, outside Alex Johnson, setter Becca Howard and middle Leah Jordan, and the Panthers might have one of their best all-around teams in years. They've dropped just three games, and their only loss was to then-No. 2 Chicago Joliet Catholic. Plant has ended PHU's season two of the past three seasons in regionals, including last year's three-set win in this round.
Up next: Orlando Dr. Phillips or Orlando Olympia
5A: Newsome (15-7) at Armwood (16-1)
Season series: Armwood 2-0
Skinny: When talking about the Hawks, the discussion usually begins and ends with senior Emilee Taylor, who led the county in kills (6.0 a game) and led the Hawks in aces (1.3), blocks (0.7) and digs (1.6). Taylor had two of her best matches against Newsome, tallying 26 and 36 kills, respectively. The Wolves earned their first region tournament victory last week with a four-set win over Ocala Forest. Wolves senior Lauren Zellmer led Newsome with 12 kills in the win over Forest, while Brooke Allen and Hillary Byrd had 10 each. The Hawks haven't make it this far in the region tournament since 2004, and it has been 22 years since Armwood went two rounds in the postseason. That season, 1987, the Hawks advanced to the state semifinals.
Up next: Lakeland or George Jenkins
3A: Clearwater Central Catholic (12-13) at Berkeley Prep (25-3)
Season series: Berkeley 2-0
Skinny: The Buccaneers have advanced to the region final eight years in a row and appear well on their way to another trip to the state tournament, but first Berkeley needs to beat a pesky CCC team that is scrappy enough to give other teams problems. The good thing for the Bucs is that they are far superior athletically and experience wise. Sophomore outside hitter Jordan Burgess could be the best player in Class 3A. She has 3.6 kills a game and leads in 3.8 digs, 0.7 aces and 0.5 blocks a game. Berkeley has an exemplary player at every spot, including setter/rightside MacKenzie Dagostino (2.4 kills, 6.8 assists), setter Ginny Willis (5.2 assists), libero Natasha Rowland (4.4 digs) and senior middle Lindsay Young (2.6 kills, 0.6 blocks)
Up next: Fort Myers Bishop Verot or Arcadia DeSoto County
2A: Indian Rocks Christian (17-11) at Tampa Prep (14-10)
Season series: Tampa Prep 3-0
Skinny: Tampa Prep is trying to clinch its third straight region final berth. The Terrapins have been beset by injuries all year, testing their already thin roster, but Tampa Prep appears healthy for the stretch run. Senior hitter Latora Lofgren, the team kills leader with 2.4 a game, tallied 36 kills in three matches against IRC. Tampa Prep also has three other hitters with at least 1.7 kills a game: Ericka McGriff (2.3 kills), Savannah Cantrell (1.9) and Megan Aschenbrenner (1.7).
Up next: Northside Christian or Fort Myers Canterbury
A: Cambridge (17-11) at Canterbury (20-5)
Season series: Canterbury 2-0
Skinny: The Lancers can't seem to solve Canterbury, having been swept in both previous meetings. Olivia Yeager had a season-high 16 kills in Cambridge's most recent loss to the Crusaders in the district final. She will need to be at her best again for Cambridge to have a chance. Yeager, only a sophomore, leads the Lancers with 2.8 kills and 1.4 blocks a game. Amber Rubright averages 2.4 kills, 1.4 aces and 2.0 digs.
Up next: West Palm Beach Summit Christian or Merritt Island Christian
A: Bradenton Christian (23-5) at Bayshore Christian (15-11)
Season series: Bayshore 3-1
Skinny: To say these teams know each other would be an understatement. This will be the fifth time they face each other. The Faith Warriors will likely be without top hitter Gabby Fernandez, who is recovering from shoulder tendonitis. Bayshore has won without Fernandez, who led the county with 339 total kills, in its past two matches, including a region semifinal win over Sonrise Christian, in which Valencia King (20 kills) and Madison Schmitt (16 kills) stepped up. Setter Amanda Mirabella (7.8 assists) is back after missing the last two weeks of the season with an ankle injury.
Up next: South Daytona Warner Christian or Winter Park Geneva