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Persistence pays as Leopards beat Hudson for title

The best offense is a good defense _ or is it the other way around? _ but a combination of the two always seems to work best for the Hernando High volleyball team.

With Tinsley Gordon and Sara Bartos providing the blocking and hitting, and Jackie Springstead tossing in a wicked serve and some timely kills, the Leopards beat Hudson 16-14, 15-10 in a hard-fought battle for the Class 4A, District 7 championship Friday night.

Hernando (27-2) advances to a Tuesday meeting at St. Petersburg Lakewood for a sectional semifinal. Lakewood beat Hernando in last year's sectional semifinals.

The Leopards, who pride themselves on defense and coming back from big deficits, did so in the first game Friday. Hudson's Lori Wisler delivered a few kills, and the Cobras' serving tied up Hernando as they surged to a 14-8 lead. A Gordon kill made it 14-9, and Springstead served four straight aces to pull the Leopards within 14-13.

With Springstead still serving, Gordon blocked a Hudson kill try to tie the game, then spiked the lead point.

Hudson held and had a chance to tie it, but its serve sailed wide, and a netted kill attempt by the Cobras ended the game.

"Probably persistence," Hernando coach Kimi Hellenberg said when asked what worked for her Leopards. "I just think Hudson was a very good team, and a very hard-hitting team, and we kept the ball off the floor. What worked was our defense and persistence."

Game 2 was all uphill for the underdog Cobras, a role reversal after two years of being the top seed.

Gordon (15 kills on the night) had three straight kills, and Bartos (nine kills) had another as Hernando turned a 5-3 deficit into a 9-5 lead. Hudson managed three straight aces from three different players, and Joy Perez (24 assists) dinked for a point to pull the Cobras to 11-10.

Hernando again finished strong. Bartos stuffed a kill attempt, and Gordon followed suit to make it 14-10.

After Hudson squandered a chance to serve its way back in, Gordon served an ace to the middle of the court for Hernando's second straight district title.

"Our main plan tonight was to go to them (Gordon and Bartos), and Jackie Springstead came through for us," said Hellenberg. "We've been going to our big girls and it seems like no one can handle them."