PALM HARBOR — Despite earning the PCAC county championship and finishing the 2009 season with Pinellas' best record, Palm Harbor University entered Thursday's rivalry with East Lake as a slight underdog, the result of losing two emotional leaders to graduation.
The Hurricanes, though, were out to prove they are still the team to beat in the county.
Playing on its home court, PHU (2-0) came back after falling behind two games to one and then rallied again from a four-point deficit in the fifth game to upend the Eagles 25-22, 22-25, 23-25, 25-14, 16-14 in front of a packed house.
"We wanted to let people know that we're still out there," said PHU sophomore Lee Nielsen, who recorded a crucial kill with the score tied at 14 in the fifth game. The Hurricanes finished off East Lake (0-1) a point later on Logan Miller's kill.
"Even when we were down, no one was giving up," PHU coach Tara Kuk said. "Everybody was pushing through. There were no bad, mad faces. That's what we needed. That's what got us through down four points in that final game."
After dropping the opening game, East Lake (0-1) won seven of eight points at 12-all to take control of game two.
In game three, the Eagles, down 22-20, got kills from Brianna McComeskey (11 kills) and Lauran Eschenroeder (17 kills) to tie. Holding a 24-23 lead, Eschenroeder and Rachel Reed combined on the block to give the Eagles a two games to one advantage.
The Hurricanes refused to go away. In the fourth game, they reeled off nine straight points with a 15-13 lead.
Trailing 9-5 in the final game, the Hurricanes got a kill from Leah McNary (15 kills) and two straight from Chelsea King (28 digs). King recorded an ace when her serve tipped the top of the net and fell onto East Lake's side of the court to tie the score at 13. Miller and East Lake's Brittnay Estes traded kills before Nielsen and Miller finished off the Eagles.
"They're a good team and they played hard; it's a rivalry," Reed said. "We just need to come out next time and finish it. Palm Harbor finished it for sure."