Monday, June 25, 2018
Sports

North Suncoast district volleyball preview: Time for things to shake out

One midweek match last week provided an example of just how unsettled North Suncoast volleyball remains.

The area's top team, Mitchell, was swept by Anclote, giving the Sharks their first-ever victory over the Mustangs.

Whether the match was an aberration or a premonition, consider it a reminder of how quickly fates can turn in the postseason. With that in mind, here are the four biggest questions heading into district tournaments:

• Who advances in Class 5A, District 8? Fivay and Ridgewood battled each other tightly all season. Each team earned a 3-1 victory over the other, and they gained the same number of points (173) in their two matchups. The Falcons, led by Toni Imbimbo and Briannah Nemetz, have the top seed and will likely advance to the final, but who will join them?

The Rams are the other favorite behind player of the year candidate Mary Kujak, but don't count out third-seeded Anclote. Mia Lockhart and the Sharks should be confident after knocking off Mitchell, but they were swept by Ridgewood earlier this month. Besides, Anclote upset Fivay last year on its run to the region tournament, so it has plenty of experience at coming through in big games.

• How far will Mitchell go? The Mustangs are balanced and loaded with talent for one of coach Keith Paulk's best teams so far. Jessika Hester has solidified herself as one of Pasco County's top talents, but she has plenty of help, including Shayna Filippelli (484 assists) and Lyndsey Lane (163 kills).

The road ahead isn't easy. Two of Mitchell's five losses have come against power Tarpon Springs, and a first-round matchup with rival River Ridge won't be easy, either. The Mustangs made it to the Class 6A region quarterfinals last year and are primed for another visit this season. But can they advance any deeper?

• Can Bishop McLaughlin bounce back? The Hurricanes lost their top player, Jessica Johnson, from the team that advanced to the Class 3A region semifinals for the first time in program history. Bishop McLaughlin replaced Johnson with another Division I talent, sophomore Alyssa Mathis, who already ranks as one of the North Suncoast's most prolific players.

Some early season hiccups led to the Hurricanes' No. 4 seed and a steep hill to climb if they want to advance to the playoffs. If Bishop McLaughlin gets past Brooks-DeBartolo in the first round, it must conquer Tampa Prep. The Terps knocked Bishop McLaughlin out of the playoffs last year and handed the Hurricanes a 3-1 loss this fall.

• What's in store for Springstead? The Eagles have a new coach, Noemi Rivera, and graduated many of their top players from last year's squad, which had the best season in school history (22-6) and rolled to the region semifinals. Springstead still has plenty of talent, including senior Marisa Welch (137 kills) and junior Bryanna Leonard (39 aces, 293 assists).

But the road back to the region tournament won't be easy. Springstead earned a No. 3 seed and has a first-round matchup with Lecanto, which handed the Eagles a 3-1 loss last month.

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