By BRYAN BURNS
Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Palm Harbor University coach Tara Kuk waited seven years to lead the Hurricanes' volleyball team to the PCAC championship game.
Once there, Kuk and the Hurricanes were not going to be denied.
Behind a solid, all-around effort from their starting rotation and a number of reserves, the Hurricanes rolled to a 25-20, 25-16, 25-22 victory against a game Lakewood squad to win their first PCAC title.
"Ever since I got to Palm Harbor, it's been a goal to come to (the PCAC championship)," Kuk said. "Obviously, when you get here it's important to win. We're really excited we got the chance to play and win."
PHU (20-3) came into the contest heavily favored, especially considering the Hurricanes were clicking on all cylinders after sweeping county heavyweights Clearwater and Clearwater Central Catholic earlier in the week. Lakewood, though, didn't back down from the challenge. The Spartans scratched and clawed and kept the Hurricanes in their sights for much of the match.
At 17-all in Game 1, PHU won the next six points to pull away. In Game 2, the Hurricanes broke out to an 8-0 lead and were ahead 18-4. Lakewood rallied but not soon enough to prevent PHU from grabbing a 2-0 advantage.
In Game 3, the Hurricanes again led early, but Lakewood wouldn't go away quietly. Berkley Whaley served three straight aces to pull Lakewood to within 22-19. PHU, however, made crucial plays down the stretch.
"When we needed to finish a game, we came out and finished, which was big for us," PHU senior Cassie Roy said. "When we got to about point 18 or 20, we made sure to not let them get a run."
PHU's strategy was to limit Whaley, who can take over a match. The Hurricanes focused on serving aggressively to keep Whaley from receiving a good set and playing the ball away from the talented sophomore.
"Our girls did a good job at the net, too," Kuk said. "She had her booms, but there were a lot of them we stopped. Logan Miller blocked a few balls. She was a little nervous but did a good job. And Leah (McNary) made some blocks, which she does every match for us."