CLEARWATER — Palm Harbor University won its third straight PCAC championship Wednesday night, but Tarpon Springs did not make it easy. The Hurricanes had to come back from an opening-game loss to defeat the Spongers 24-26, 25-14, 15-8 at Countryside. PHU made it to the final by sweeping St. Petersburg earlier in straight games. Tarpon Springs needed three games to get past Clearwater in the other semifinal.
PHU (14-1) suffered its first loss of the season Tuesday against Clearwater, but quickly got back on the winning track prior to next week's Class 8A, District 10 tournament.
"Clearwater beat us, no doubt beat us," PHU coach Dexter Rogers said. "Not to sound pompous, but that was the first time in a long time where we had to fight for each point. So I told them last night to think about all the things they did wrong and then go to sleep and forget about. Today, I want you think about all the things you're going to do right. We beat a very good Tarpon team. They are much better than when we played them two weeks ago."
The Spongers (17-6) hung around in the first and trailed 16-14 midway through. Then Mackenzie Dufresne took over. After an unforced error, she served three straight aces to give Tarpon Springs a 17-16 lead. Two more PHU errors made the score 20-16.
Then Tarpon Springs made three straight errors and a Jessica Angelo kill tied the score at 20-20. With the score tied at 24, the Spongers got the final two points on a PHU serve in the net and an ace by Anya Reinhard.
"We woke the beast up and the beast was mad," Spongers' coach Patrick Sneed said. "Especially their outside hitter."
That would be Angelo. She had nine kills in the second game, including four in a six-point run that made the score 12-5. She finished with 15 kills. Tarpon Springs never got closer than six points, which forced a deciding game three.
It was the Spongers who took the early lead, 6-2. After a timeout, PHU scored five straight and took a 7-6 lead. The Hurricanes scored the final six points, which included a block and a kill each by Angelo and Maggie Metz, to close out the match.
This was the second straight season Tarpon Springs has been in the final four.
"We played controlled volleyball," Sneed said. "First ball contact is huge in volleyball and today we finally had some good first ball contact. It was exciting for us to make it this far."