What a difference a year makes.
Palm Harbor University, which won only one match last season in its first year, completed an impressive turnaround in Thursday's final. Playing textbook volleyball, the Hurricanes claimed their first district championship with a 15-12, 15-10 win over Sickles before a raucous home crowd.
"We were pumped. We knew any team that came out wasn't going to get past us," said PHU sophomore hitter Lauren Goldoni, who had seven kills. "I think we could have beaten anyone tonight."
According to Hurricanes coach Karen Kreger, her team had revenge on its mind after being humbled earlier in the season by the Gryphons, who came in undefeated in district play.
Sickles (11-5) stayed even in the first game. With the score tied at 12 and the Hurricanes serving, the Gryphons made two terrific digs to keep the ball in play before Jennifer Dull ended the rally and put PHU ahead with her third kill of the game. After two sideouts, Sickles handed the game to the Hurricanes on two hits into the net.
Trailing 10-3 in the second game, PHU (15-13) regrouped and closed out the match by scoring the next 12 points. Gryphon players were called for being under or in the net on several key plays, and Sickles lost focus completely after Kim Rice was given a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"We're a new team and a little inexperienced. I think we got a little bit rattled by the calls, but a good team overcomes that," Gryphons coach Sam Cibrone said.
PHU will host the runner-up in District 11 on Tuesday in the opening round of the regional tournament. Sickles hit the road to face the District 11 winner.
Class 2A, District 10
Despite missing Kayla Johnson, out with an injured knee, Tampa Prep won the title 15-4, 15-3 over Northside Christian.
With junior Isabelle Krusen replacing Johnson for most of the match and sharing her passing and defensive duties with Clare Baxter _ who turned in perhaps her finest performance of the season _ the Terrapins didn't slack off. Patton's 17 kills helped a bunch, too.
"We came in here like there wasn't a lot of pressure and we played poorly in the first game," said Northside head coach Lori Dean. "But we came back in the second game under a lot more pressure and played well. Maybe we need that."
Prone to lapses in concentration, the Mustangs (23-4) were not a factor in Game 1. They trailed 8-5 in Game 2 when Erin Gornes came to life.
A kill by the 6-foot-2 middle hitter (one of her nine) forced a sideout. Then a Gornes block led to Northside point. A Terrapin (21-5) net foul followed by a Gornes kill tied it and energized the Mustang faithful who made the trip over the Bay to the Tampa Prep gym.
The teams then traded four-point runs and with the match tied at 12, a Julie Brabham kill put the Terrapins up for good.
Class 1A, District 10
ST. PETERSBURG _ Host Shorecrest (17-14) took the title in two straight games, 15-12, 15-12, from Keswick Christian (18-13).
Senior Lisa Bradley's first kill in Game 1 was followed with six consecutive Shorecrest points. Then, trailing 11-2, and with Lindsey Weatherford serving, Keswick managed a six-point comeback with Lindsey Kruis and Cindy White providing the kills.
Late in the game, Keswick closed to within 14-12 but a strong kill by freshman Kelly Bacon won it for Shorecrest.
Shorecrest found itself behind 8-4 in the second game mostly because of setting mistakes, but Bacon and senior Alex White had two kills each to tie the game at 8.
With the score 13-12 for Shorecrest, Keswick did all it could at the net to survive the mounting aggressive play of Shorecrest.
Freshman, Carly Zillig, remained accurate in her setting throughout the entire game. A serving ace by White brought the score to 14-12 and Bradley tapped over the match point.
"I'm so excited. It was awesome," Bacon said.
Shorecrest coach Kathy Sessions noted the team's improvement. "We've been coming around the last part of the season," she said.
_ ED REED