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Brandon, Plant, Chamberlain are top seeds in their districts

As the Class A, District 9 volleyball tournament continues, other area teams start district quests tonight. State powers Brandon and Plant are among the favorites who will face underdogs in the first round.

Brandon's Eagles open the Class 4A, District 5 tournament at Plant City with a first-round game against East Bay today at 4 p.m.

The Eagles (23-2) head into the tournament on a high note after capturing the Port Charlotte Invitational last weekend. Brandon went 6-0 for the tournament to clinch the title for its second straight year and the fourth time in six years.

Senior hitter Kathy Beecroft, who leads the team in kills, was named to the all-tournament team.

"We really improved and came together as a team last weekend," Brandon coach Frank Vining said. Our all-around play was much better."

On the Hillsborough County side, the 4A state runner-up Eagles are seeded first in the tournament, followed by Bloomingdale, Plant City, Armwood and East Bay.

From Polk County, Lakeland is the top seed, with Lake Gibson seeded second and Winter Haven rounding out the draw at third.

"We're looking forward maybe to play Lakeland again because they're one of our two losses and we'd like to avenge that," Vining said.

Meanwhile, the Class 3A state semifinalist Plant Panthers open play against Auburndale tonight in the 3A-8 tournament at Bartow.

The top-seeded Panthers are 15-8 after going 2-2 at the Port Charlotte Invitational.

Senior hitter Teresa Stokes and junior setter Jennifer Galloway have returned to the Panthers' starting line-up after being sidelined with ankle injuries for a couple weeks, while Afton Thatcher remains out.

"I think we're starting to click now," Plant coach Laura Figueredo said. "It helps to get those two back. We're getting pretty fired up over districts."

In the 4A-6 tournament, the Chamberlain Chiefs are the heavy favorite with a 16-5 record. Seeded first, Chamberlain does not play until Thursday night.

The Gaither Cowboys, seeded third, play King, the No.

6 seed, today at 6:30 p.m. in the opening round.

After losing five of their last six games, the Cowboys are 8-6 going into the tournament. Gaither coach Michelle Lamont said she is optimistic about her team's chances.

"We're really working on turning it around," Lamont said. "This is, if not the strongest, one of the strongest teams we've ever had."

The Cowboys will be gunning to reclaim the title from defending district champion Chamberlain. Gaither defeated the Chiefs in the district finals two years in a row, before losing in the semifinals last year.

The Chiefs, who were undefeated against district opponents during the regular season, are not taking anything for granted.

"They feel strongly that they can win districts," Chamberlain coach Megan Bennett said. "They also know that come tournament time people play a lot harder and anything can happen.

"We really have to play our hardest regardless of how we did in the past," Bennett said.

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