All matches at the Lakeland Center. Admission is $8.
Class 6A: Timber Creek vs. Royal Palm Beach
Class 4A: Nease def. DeSoto County 28-26, 25-16, 25-20
Class 2A: First Academy def. Palmer Trinity 25-18, 25-12, 25-17
Class 5A: Leon vs. Lake Howell, 6; Plant vs. St. Thomas Aquinas, 8
Class 3A: Bolles vs. Lake Highland Prep, 2; Berkeley Prep vs. Florida Christian, 4
Class A: Warner Chr. vs. Merritt Island Christian, 10; Bradenton Christian vs. Lake Worth Christian, noon
TAMPA — Maddie Martin's powerful swing was getting stopped at the net, Plant had just dropped its first game in a month, and the Panthers' junior outside hitter had had enough.
That's when Martin, midway through Plant's four-game victory at Venice in last week's Class 5A region final, pounded a vicious kill at the Indians' front row, a hit that sent a loud thump through the arena and a did-you-just-see-that look through the crowd.
"That game was just building up," Martin said with a smile. "When I haven't gotten a good kill in a while or if I've just been blocked, I have that motivation that I just say it's time."
As the Panthers face St. Thomas Aquinas in tonight's Class 5A state semifinal game at the Lakeland Center, the 6-foot-1 Martin has the opportunity to win her third state title in her third year of high school.
Another gold medal would be sweet for obvious reasons, but it would end what Martin calls her most difficult year of volleyball on a high note.
Martin owns arguably the most powerful swing in the county, maybe the state. "If there's no block, the point's pretty much over," said Katie Daoria, a second-teamer who has to dig Martin in every practice.
She already has committed to Penn State, the nation's current No. 1 team and defending national champion.
"She just has tremendous innate strength," longtime Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino said. "And now she's been playing the game long enough that she's the very best her age level can offer."
But this has been a trying season. After injuring her left ankle at Penn State's summer camp, Martin tried to come back prematurely twice. The first return ended with her in a boot for a month. The second try was also short-lived; coach Leanna Taylor took her out of a five-game loss to Berkeley in the Berkeley Premier.
"I was trying so hard not to cry on the court," Martin said.
Her return has been a test in patience. She lost 8 inches from her vertical. She played in only the front row and was limited to two matches of the Nike Challenge, a prestigious invitational in Chicago. Even now she says she's not 100 percent, but that she will get there.
"It's definitely given me an appreciation for girls who have been hurt or are coming off of injury," Martin said. "I'm definitely not where I used to be, but I'm getting there. I know now that it just takes time."