TRINITY — The hottest hand at the most important time began firing aces in an unforgiving assault.
Mitchell's players appeared defenseless Tuesday night as Hudson junior Lacey Carley crushed five consecutive aces, part of a 9-1 run to finish the fifth and deciding set.
The opening-night victory (21-25, 25-19, 32-30, 25-18, 15-11) on a rival's wooden floor was a huge liftoff for first-year Cobras coach Kortney Newton. Not only did Hudson graduate eight seniors from last year's final four team, but also lost coach Shayna Munson in a bizarre breakdown in communication that led to a parting of ways.
Newton, who is guiding a group of mostly inexperienced underclassmen, sounded a shot across the North Suncoast: don't count out Hudson.
"Nobody knows what to expect," Newton said. "Eight seniors graduated last year and with Fivay opening up, nobody knows what to expect with so many players moving around. It will be an interesting year. We can show everyone what we've got."
First-night jitters were evident in the first game with errant hitting and missed opportunities. Still Hudson showed early on it would be competitive, taking a 10-5 lead in the first game. Mitchell has a talented lineup and was led by Devan Dampier in the middle with 13 kills. Devon Felts had some nice serves in Game One, helping to rattle off four consecutive points before teammate Emily Morales and her powerful left-handed hook gave Mitchell the lead for good at 17-16 before taking the game 25-21.
Hudson pulled even after taking Game Two 25-19 with strong play from Paige Winters and Karlie Lamphier, who put the Cobras ahead at 18-17 before taking the game.
Game Three had the divided crowd that packed the stands on its feet after Hudson took the game 32-30.
Mitchell battled back to the delight of coach Keith Paulk. The Mustangs trailed 14-10 before rallying on Felts' 10 consecutive serves to take a 19-15 lead before winning 25-18.
"I had nothing bad to say about them," Paulk said of his team after the loss. "They fought back from the brink and showed tons of composure. After losing that big one I said, 'It was a magnificent effort.' "
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.