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Clearwater returns to PCAC throne

They gathered at the net, holding up index fingers. Vicki Drakakis was late. She called mom on a mobile phone to tell the news.

Clearwater High is back on top.

The Tornadoes beat Tarpon Springs 16-14, 8-15, 15-9 Thursday night to win their 12th Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship, and first in four years. Tarpon had won the past three titles.

"This is unbelievable. It's awesome," said four-year starter Stacey Roberts, in between hugs. "We really had to pull together."

The Tornadoes recovered from the loss of veteran starter Amy Hahn, who landed on a teammate's foot in the first game and left with a sprained ankle.

Clearwater also recovered from a 14-13 deficit in game one. Tarpon served into the net on game point. Clearwater won the next three points, including a Bethany Trouville spike and Tracy Mathews' dink.

The net serve was one of several breakdowns for Tarpon, which dominated in stretches and looked awkward in others.

"When we're on, nothing can stop us," said middle hitter Tanya Kazaleh, who led everyone with 21 winners at the net, including four blocks. "But when we get down, it is so hard to get us back up."

Clearwater coach Anne Balderson subbed often, rotating Mathews, Trouville, Drakakis, Jamie Higinbotham, Monique Merier and Stacie Haire. Roberts, Jennie Gildersleeve and Christine Houle always stayed on the court. Roberts led with 15 kills.

Tarpon used seven players, including Kazaleh and Shannon Cooper (14 winners, despite a recent bout with the chicken pox). Setter Jodie Bourne also set to Erin Mitchell, Melissa Terry and Katie Clifford. Melissa Iwanowski came in with some wicked serves.

Tarpon's power broke through in the second game, and the Spongers took the lead in the third, 7-2. But Clearwater called timeout and re-grouped. Tarpon collapsed. Six missed spikes and two other errors gave Clearwater seven easy points in the third game.

Tampa Prep rolls over Shorecrest: Host Tampa Prep, ranked No. 2 in the Class 3A state poll and No. 12 nationally, rolled to a 15-2, 15-9 victory in the Bay Conference Championship.

Pinellas Park tops Dunedin: Kristi Beatty served five jump-serve aces in the first game to lead Pinellas Park past visiting Dunedin 15-6, 15-7 in a PCAC match. The Patriots raised their overall record to 20-5 and have won at least 20 games three consecutive years.

_ Correspondents Bob Putnam and Wayne McKnight contributed to this report.