The Hudson volleyball team will play in tonight's Class 4A, District 7 championship game for the third consecutive year. But for the first time, it is there when it isn't supposed to be.
Land O'Lakes _ the home team, the team 3-0 against the Cobras this year, the team with all the big hitters _ was supposed to see to that. Instead, all it saw was its season end.
In one of the most thrilling county games of the year, Hudson fought and scrapped with the bigger and more experienced Gators for an hour and 40 minutes, emerging with a 14-16, 15-13, 17-15 win.
"We were determined," Hudson coach Linda McQuade said. "We just overcame them. They kept coming back."
The Cobras will meet Hernando, a 15-7, 15-12 winner over Zephyrhills, in tonight's championship at 6 p.m. Last year, the Leopards upset the top-seeded Cobras in the title game.
Hudson, which lost big leads in the first two games, fell behind 10-6 in the finale. But a Lori Wisler kill and a couple of errors by the Gators made it 10-9, and the teams then exchanged serves nine times without a point.
A block by Keely Pickens snapped the string as Land O'Lakes scored, and when Hudson's Mandy Holcomb hit wide, it was 13-11 Gators.
But freshman Kacy Dorr, who earlier had been yanked after playing a serve that was way out, served three points, including an ace to put Hudson up 14-13.
A Pickens kill got the ball back, and she served her squad to a 15-14 game-point situation.
McQuade called a timeout, and again, Hudson bounced back as Holcomb drilled a Joy Perez set to the floor, and then served out the match. Kerri Rulison had a block for one point and a kill for another, and a bad set out of bounds by the Gators ended the match.
"I was nervous, but I knew we were going to win," Natalie Buono said. "We've gone through this too many times with them."
Land O'Lakes dominated statistically, as Michelle Winkler had 16 kills and Pickens added 13. Hudson's Lori Wisler led her team with 11 kills, and the team got outstanding defense and steady setting from Perez, who had 23 assists.
In the night's first semifinal, Sara Bartos came off the bench and had nine kills, and Tinsley Gordon added seven and six blocks for the 26-2 Leopards.