NEW PORT RICHEY — When Land O'Lakes needed someone to end an eight-point rally in the third game, the Gators turned to their budding middle hitter.
And when they needed a point to put away Ridgewood for good, they looked to Tyra Long again.
The senior recorded 16 kills, including the game-sealing spike, to sweep the pesky Rams 25-20, 25-20, 33-31 Tuesday night at Anders Court.
Especially after how Long fared in a duel with Ridgewood sophomore standout Aubree Sigismondi, the top returning player from last year's district championship team.
With her Rams (1-2) trailing by two games, Sigismondi took over. Her back-to-back aces helped Ridgewood take control of the third, jumping out to an 18-10 lead.
That's when Long answered. She recorded three kills in a row, including one highlight-worthy stand. She blocked one ball, then returned with a thunderous spike on the next hit to keep her Gators (2-1) in the game.
"They just really played their hearts out," first-year coach Dan Cunningham said. "They were able to refocus."
Sigismondi recovered, too, blasting three of her team-high 13 kills when the Gators were within one point of victory.
But Long was too strong, recording the final spike in a back-and-forth third game to complete the sweep and match Land O'Lakes' win total for all of last season.
"I couldn't be happier with the way the girls have come together," said Cunningham, who was hired in the middle of the team's tryouts.
Samantha Mills contributed a solid seven kills and two aces for the Gators, and Kristina Bienasz added two aces.
Johanna Cummines (five kills and one ace) and Kate Stubler (four kills) also had solid showings for Ridgewood.
Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected].com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.