CLEARWATER — It was one of the most anticipated volleyball showdowns of the season, with a spot in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship match on the line and the No. 1 seed in Class 6A, District 7 at stake.
Palm Harbor University and Countryside lived up to the billing Tuesday, extending their pivotal match to five games and playing for 2½ hours.
And when it mattered most, the Hurricanes' Cassie Roy delivered, serving three aces in the deciding game that helped her team jump out to a big lead before holding on for a 25-23, 22-25, 26-24, 19-25, 16-14 victory.
"I was so pumped and determined not to lose this one," Roy said. "I went back to serve and I was confident that everything was going to work out."
PHU's win knocked the Cougars from the unbeaten ranks and marks the first time the Hurricanes will appear in the PCAC title match. A win against Sarasota Riverview on Thursday assures PHU of the top seed in its district.
"It was such a big win for the program and for the girls," Hurricanes coach Tara Kuk said. "Countryside is such a great program and plays so well defensively. We just really came through when we needed to."
The match was filled with tense moments with both teams fighting off match point in four of the five games. In the deciding game, PHU (14-3) held a 2-1 lead when Roy served four straight points, including three aces to put the Hurricanes ahead 6-1.
"Cassie did a great job with her serves," Kuk said. "I think a few of those hit the floor without being touched.
"But I was never comfortable with the lead. I may have been when it was 14-1."
PHU led by as much as 8-2 before Countryside rallied. The Cougars (16-1) tied the score at 13 but were never able to take the lead. Three times, though, Countryside fought off match point.
"We played a little more inconsistent than we're used to," Cougars coach Kaylyn Bayly said. "Still, I'm proud of them for the way they were able to come back."