Before their match against Clearwater in the Class 5A, District 7 volleyball final Friday night, Tarpon Springs players painted a tiny square on their right cheek that read Maroon Mania. It was an attempt to boost team spirit as part of homecoming week.
Later, Maroon Mania became hysteria as the Spongers toppled Clearwater 11-15, 15-8, 15-6 to advance to the regional game Tuesday against Pinellas Park.
As the final game ended, Sponger players converged on one another in the middle of the court, exhausted and relieved to have beaten the Tornadoes for the first time this season in a match that took an hour and a half.
The first game gave an indication of the dramatic moments ahead. There were seven lead changes before Clearwater finally put the game away.
And the Tornadoes kept their momentum in the second game, taking a 4-0 lead. That's when Tarpon Springs coach Stefanie Decker called time and issued a challenge to her team.
"I told them we're down 4-0. Does anyone have a problem with that?" Decker said. "Then Tanya Kazalch stood up and said, "Hey, we want to win districts!' "
Ironically, the second game, which had given Decker fits all season, turned out to be the one that vaulted the Spongers toward the championship. They went on to register the next 14 points, thanks in large part to Shannon Cooper, who led her team with 12 kills in the match.
Cooper's performance extended into the third game. Down 5-3, the Spongers responded by scoring the next 11 points for a 14-5 lead en route to the championship.
Meanwhile, Clearwater's Stacey Roberts was left to wonder what went wrong in the last two games.
"We just fell apart," she said. "We didn't talk with each other or communicate."