PLANT CITY — It isn't like the sports programs at Strawberry Crest have already caught up to their rivals at Plant City.
The Chargers certainly are living up to their end, and to their nickname when it comes to fall sports. Strawberry Crest capped off a historic 72-hour stretch Tuesday night with the volleyball team beating Plant City just three days after the Chargers football team knocked off the Raiders.
In a highly intense match that went four games, the Chargers defeated Plant City for the first time in volleyball. From the crowd to the action on the court to the reaction after, it was a big deal.
"I even had my principal (David Brown) saying to me, 'Okay, we beat them in football, you guys are up next . . . let's get a clean sweep of Plant City,' " Crest volleyball coach Morgan Miltner said.
In its first three seasons, the Chargers volleyball team has made the playoffs twice, but that never translated into a win over the Raiders.
Certainly Plant City was ready for the challenge Tuesday. It came very close to taking the first game, then forced the Chargers to work by winning game three. But Strawberry Crest dominated game four, winning 25-15.
"We finally did it," said Crest senior libero Jamee Townsend. "This was the last chance for us seniors to beat Plant City. A lot of us went to middle school together so immediately they were going to be our rivals. In the past we were a little nervous against them but this time, it seemed like the seniors knew what we had to do."
And apparently so did the freshmen, with Alex Calescibetta and Terra Brooks prominent figures for Strawberry Crest.
Brooks, a towering and imposing figure who looks nothing like a freshman, took over the match at key moments and closed out the match with two kills.
"Terra is just an athlete," Miltner said, with big stress on that last word. "We're feeding everything up to the two freshmen, and they really came up big for us."
Jailene Caraballo, a sophomore, is also a big part of the Chargers' attack and controlled several key sequences with her serve Tuesday.
Plant City's roster is senior-less under new head coach Jessica Thornton. But the Raiders certainly have the look of an experienced group, and are a lot deeper. Thornton credits a recently opened volleyball club in Plant City for the progress.
"We have a few standouts but what I love is I can put anyone, anywhere on the court and feel comfortable," said Thornton, who most recently coach at Fort Myers Cypress Lake and was at East Bay before that.
Thornton has brought an energy and "want-to" edge to the team which was evident throughout Tuesday's match, but especially in the third game, when the Raiders won 25-22.
How close was the match to having a different outcome? Alex Arnold's angled shot, with the Raiders ahead 23-22 in the first game, landed just out of bounds. The Chargers took advantage and won the game 25-23, and then took the second game 25-19.
"We made a few rookie mistakes," Thornton said. "But if that's the worst problem we have, we're in good shape. That's something we can fix."
Junior libero Danielle Rodriguez's hustle sparked the Raiders. Teammate Kelly Drake's spectacular dig set up a Kellie Pernula kill that carried Plant City to victory in the third game.
Pernula, Michelle Daubach, Emily Fry, Kasi Maguire and Noelle Dietrich are all sophomores who look to be part of a strong foundation.
The teams won't meet again this season, but the Chargers, especially the seniors, will gladly take the result of their last matchup.
"I would have gone to Plant City had Strawberry Crest not opened," said senior setter Briana Sanchez. "So from the beginning the goal has been to kind of conquer our rivals. This was really special."
Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]