TAMPA — East Lake and Bloomingdale established themselves as the teams to beat during pool play at the Academy of the Holy Names Invitational, which brought together volleyball teams from Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.
In Saturday's battle of tournament unbeatens, East Lake, the reigning Class 8A state champions, prevailed 17-25, 25-21, 16-14 in the title match, but Bloomingdale left quite an impression.
"We realize we're not the big fish anymore," Eagles coach Mike Estes said.
After the Bulls took the first game, they continued their roll and built a 14-7 edge in the second. But East Lake, the first Pinellas County volleyball team to win back-to-back state titles, battled back to the game at 19 and pulled away to win 25-21.
In the third game, East Lake went ahead 11-8, and senior outside hitter Mary Gillis set the Eagles up for match point when she blasted one of her eight kills for the match.
But the Bulls, led by sophomore Karissa Rhoades (seven kills), fought off three match points and tied it at 14. Rhoades and Gillis traded shots until eventually the Eagles won 16-14.
The Bulls got a dynamite performance from sophomore Kaitlyn Grice, who registered five kills and five blocks. She was an imposing presence at the net and a good matchup for Gillis.
"The tradition that the East Lakes and the Plants have works in their favor," Bloomingdale coach Margeaux Sinibaldi said. "We're trying to build something like that."
Bloomingdale knocked off Plant in the semifinals 25-13, 18-25, 15-13, and East Lake got past Tampa Catholic (14-24, 26-28, 15-13).
The host Jaguars were 1-2 in pool play but rallied to take the consolation match from Tampa Prep 25-21, 25-22. Coach Jeff Davis singled out juniors Jennifer Aprile and Lily Veith as having strong showings.
"These matches were all so close, I feel like if we came back and played this tournament next week, we would have all different results," Davis said.