Icy Miller, expected to step in for her team's injured star, did that and more Thursday night in leading Hudson to a third straight Class 4A, District 8 championship.
Playing perhaps her finest match since Kerri Rulison got hurt, Miller was able to carry the Cobras when they needed it in a 11-15, 15-13, 15-8 win over Zephyrhills in the Hudson gymnasium.
"Since we played in (the Bishop Moore Tournament) two weeks ago, she has looked better and better every day," said Hudson coach Linda McQuade.
But the junior never looked better than Thursday. With her team already down a game and trailing 13-12 in the second, Miller placed a kill perfectly inside the back corner to tie the game. The Bulldogs regained service three times with a chance to force match point, but twice Miller ripped kills off the floor to foil Zephyrhills. Then with Miller serving, Shannon Wisler had a kill and Dana Wilke a big block to end the game.
Although it evened the match and forced a third game, Miller's heroics did much more than that. With momentum on its side, Hudson was able to put the Bulldogs in a third-game hole they never clawed out of.
"It turned around when it was 13-13," said Zephyrhills coach Pat Moul. "Icy, she picked them up and did a real good job."
Miller was even better in the last game, getting eight kills to give her 18 for the match. She was helped by a Hudson defense that limited Zephyrhills to two kills, and Wisler, who had her second straight good match with five kills (13 overall) in the final game.
The No. 3-ranked Cobras (26-3) will host Lecanto in a North II regional quarterfinal on Tuesday. The Panthers lost 15-6, 15-6 to Citrus in District 7.
No. 9 Zephyrhills will travel to Inverness to meet the Hurricanes Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (20-6), who beat Hudson the last time the teams met to end the Cobras' season-opening 19-match winning streak, nearly earned the right to play at home. Kristen Schleicher had seven kills in the first game and setter Lizabeth Torres had four as Zephyrhills broke away from an 11-all tie to score the final four points. It then had 8-6 and 13-11 leads it couldn't hold in the second game.
By then, the Cobras had righted themselves and were too much for the Bulldogs to contend with. They jumped out to an 8-2 lead, winning some thrillingly long rallies, and held off a Bulldog.
Zephyrhills pulled within 8-7, but Julie Gilbride served two points and Jill Perez served four more as Hudson retook control at 14-7. Wisler ended the match with a kill.