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3A-7 displays rare balance

Nancy Kinnunen said the Class 3A, District 7 volleyball tournament next week may be the most competitive in her 12 years as coach at Gulf High. "It's so wide open this year," said Kinnunen, whose Buccaneers are among a pack of 3A-7 teams hovering at .500. "It's anybody's tournament.

"Traditionally, it's been one or two teams that have dominated. Last year, it was Land O'Lakes and Ridgewood. This year, Land O'Lakes (13-9 overall, 10-2 in the district) and Ridgewood (14-5, 9-3) have played well _ but they haven't dominated."

Hudson coach Linda McQuade agreed. "There's a bunch of us clustered together who can all beat each other. This year has been more competitive than in the past."

The 10-team, single-elimination district tournament begins Tuesday. The top six teams receive byes for the first round. The quarterfinals (Oct.31), semifinals (Nov.1) and final (Nov.2) will be at Land O'Lakes.

The regular season ends Friday. "Right now, it's hard to determine the seedings," Kinnunen said. "Everybody is so close."

Central Bears: The Bears are back on the winning track. Central (9-8) defeated Citrus 15-9, 15-3 Thursday and Hernando 15-8, 15-11 Monday.

After going to a 4-2 alignment, coach Toni Brandes moved Tracy Foster into the starting lineup.

"Tracy played well," Brandes said after the Hernando match. "Lee Duval really impressed me with her sets; she came through tonight.

Central visits tough Lecanto on Thursday.

Crystal River Pirates: Four wins in their past five matches have moved Crystal River to 9-9. The Pirates finish the regular season by entertaining GCC opponent Land O'Lakes on Thursday.

"The kids are young," said coach Vicki Browning, whose varsity roster lists five sophomore and only two seniors. "It's not that they haven't been trying; they're just young. But we've had our bright moments. They just haven't been as abundant as we've been used to."

Gulf Buccaneers: Kinnunen's Bucs (9-9) lost to Ridgewood 15-11, 4-15, 12-15 and defeated South Sumter 15-3, 15-11 and Pasco 15-3, 15-0.

Against Pasco, Gulf's Susan Dacy served all 15 points in the second game.

Kinnunen said junior Shelley Cregan has been hitting well. Kinnunen also has been happy with the performance of Amy Waz.

"Amy has been getting into the flow of things the last two games," Kinnunen said. "It's been quite an improvement. We definitely need her hitting."

Hernando Leopards: Hernando (7-11) won four straight matches last week, defeating South Sumter 10-15, 15-11, 15-9 Monday, Gulf 7-15, 15-8, 15-3 Tuesday, Springstead 15-0, 15-0 Wednesday, and Pasco 12-15, 15-2, 15-8 Thursday.

Hernando's only recent loss was to Central this past Monday night, 15-8, 15-11.

"Dena Bridges has been excellent," Hernando coach T.V. Chambers said. "She had 17 kills against South Sumter. Autumn and Lisa (Miller) have done a great job getting the ball to Dena."

Hernando played Citrus Tuesday night

Hudson Cobras: Coach McQuade barely made it back from New York on Monday evening in time to coach her team's match against Zephyrhills. As it turned out, the Cobras left their serve at home and lost in three games.

"A poor service game is rare for us," said McQuade, who attended her cousin's Sunday-night wedding in New York.

Ali Mucha and Kari Wisler have been hitting well for Hudson (8-8). McQuade also says she is excited about the progress of freshmen Jennifer Ball and Rachel Sanchez.

Lecanto Panthers: The Panthers got their 20th win Monday night, 15-4, 15-8, avenging an early-season loss to Class 2A, District 9 rival South Sumter.

Lecanto (20-2) put itself in good standing to become the top seed in the 2A-9 tournament, starting next week, and junior varsity coach Freddie Bullock added a pep talk with personal implications.

"Freddie Bullock is from South Sumter," head coach Karen Boisvert said. "She said after that last match that she got such a ribbing from the people over there she came back and told our girls: "You better beat them bad, or else."'

The Panthers obliged.

"We just knew we had to beat them, because they embarrassed us, we embarrassed ourselves," Boisvert said, referring to South Sumter's 15-12, 3-15, 15-10 win over the Panthers on Oct.1. "It was assumed that we would be serious and go out and beat them.

"That's the way we've been playing lately. It hasn't been great, but we're getting the job done."

The Panthers wrapped up the Gulf Coast Conference title with a 15-10, 15-8 win at Ridgewood on Thursday. Lecanto finished league play with a 9-1 record.

Ridgewood Rams: The Rams beat Land O'Lakes on Monday, 15-10, 1-15, 17-15 _ their first victory over the Gators in two years.

"It was a big win for us," first-year Ridgewood coach Laura Katkow said. "We broke that mental block that we couldn't beat Land O'Lakes."

Ridgewood went 0-3 against the Gators last year. In the two rivals' first meeting this season, the Rams lost 9-15, 15-1, 5-15.

On Monday, Ridgewood was playing without its best hitter, Charlotte Jones, who was ill. Katkow said doctors do not know what is wrong with Jones, who could miss the rest of the season.

Amy Spink filled in for Jones and did a great job, according to Katkow.

Springstead Eagles: Springstead (2-14 before a match against Wildwood on Tuesday night) lost to Hernando 15-0, 15-0 Wednesday, to Hudson 15-5, 15-13 Thursday, and to Crystal River 12-15, 15-12, 15-10 Monday.

"We just played poorly," coach Lionel Thornton said of the Hernando shutout. "The girls weren't playing together, the spiking had no authority _ the spikes were like bumps."

Thornton's starting lineup consists of one senior, four sophomores and one freshman. Only senior Amy Blevens has previous varsity experience.

Thornton himself has been busy coaching both the vasity and junior varsity teams. He took over the junior varsity squad two weeks ago, when JV coach Darryl Janus resigned.

Zephyrhills Bulldogs: Coach Marie Cawley said her team has the ability to win the district title if everyone plays well at the same time.

"We usually have one or two who play great and the other four are asleep," she said. "The ones who play great seem to rotate."

The Bulldogs took advantage of Hudson's poor serving Monday night to win 16-14, 10-15, 15-9.

"I probably would have had an ulcer if my team missed as many serves as they did _ and at such key points," said Cawley, whose team is 8-7.

_ Staff writer Joanne Korth and correspondent Rick Gershman contributed to this report.