The bright yellow smiley faces on the bow tying back Kayla Johnson's hair contrasted sharply with her somber expression as she watched her Tampa Prep teammates warm up prior to their Class 2A-District 10 championship match with Northside Christian.
The bulky brace wrapped around the left knee she injured Wednesday night in a club soccer game and the crutches that went with it explained why the all-conference outside hitter, one of Tampa Prep's two seniors, as well as one of its captains, could sit out such a match.
The extent of the damage was not known at matchtime, but even without the results of Thursday's MRI, Johnson's season is over.
An intense competitor, Johnson must now focus on leading her team to its 12th state title with words rather that actions. The Terrapins took their first step Thursday, defeating the Mustangs 15-4, 15-3 to win the district title.
"I'm gonna try and help wherever I can," Johnson said. "As a fellow player, I know what to expect and I'll be there for my teammates if they need anything."
On the court, several other Terrapins took up the slack.
"I said before the match that we've got to fight harder," said Jolene Patton, the other Terrapin senior. "I talked to all the starters and told them we had to play our game better."
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.
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.
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 6A, District 6
PLANT CITY _ Bradenton Manatee took advantage of Bloomingdale's sloppy play to capture the title 15-9, 15-5. Both will play Tuesday in subregional quarterfinals.
Manatee (26-4) will host the loser of tonight's Gaither-East Lake match and Bloomingdale (17-9) will meet the winner.
The Hurricanes rode the accurate, powerful service of senior Jeanette Beiler. She served 16 of Manatee's points and blasted nine aces.
Tuesday will be the first time in 12 years the Hurricanes have hosted a regional game, Manatee coach Ted Rigo said.
In Game 1, Bloomingdale opened with the first point, then fell behind 8-1 before scoring again. Game 2 started the same way for the Bulls. They were behind 7-0, then 9-1.
Except for the play of seniors Susan Bindshedler and Brook Waite, the Bulls were error-prone in all aspects of the game.
Bindshedler had nine kills in the first game and four more in the second. She also scored four of the five points in the second game, all on aces. Waite served five of the nine points in Game 1.
"Manatee was hitting the ball hard tonight and when we managed to get the ball, we were missing the serves," Bloomingdale coach Bonnie Hess said. "Manatee is a good team and they not only outplayed us tonight, they flat beat us."
_ TERRY JONES
Class 5A, District 11
DURANT _ Most people expected a fairly close match in Thursday's final, and then a blowout.
Durant, which fired down shots from almost every angle, cruised to a 15-7, 15-9 victory against Lakeland at the Cougars' gym.
The victory sets up another home match for the Cougars against Sarasota in Tuesday's first-round of regionals.
"We won't look past (Sarasota)," Durant coach Teri Ohme said regarding possible regional final and sectional matches against No. 1-ranked Clearwater and No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas. "We have to just continue to keep our focus."
Durant's focus seem to fade at times, but Ohme said that probably had something to do with the letdown from the competition.
"We were prepared with a lot of emotion and then suddenly it just wasn't there," Ohme said. "When something comes to you easy, it can sometimes make it tough to keep the concentration."
Lakeland coach Tim Edfors said the problem had a lot to do with his team being tired after playing three straight nights.
"My girls simply weren't in shape," Edfors said. "I've told them to run on their off days of practice, but they obviously haven't. We were sluggish and that affected our mental game as well. We weren't quick to think."
The Cougar kill numbers tell the story: Shelby Jordan and Shelbylynn McBride had seven apiece and Dawn Hough had six.
Setter Bethany Stephens got everything started with 20 assists, while Mindy Miltner and Jennifer Sebastian collected seven points each on their serves.
_ SCOTT PURKS
Class 3A, District 10
MULBERRY _ The Tampa Catholic Crusaders won their first district title in 15 years, defeating Mulberry 15-7, 15-7 in the final.
TC (15-14) hosts Academy of the Holy Names in Tuesday's Class 3A, South II quarterfinal match. AHN won the other two meetings this season.
"This time, I think we've got a shot at taking it," TC coach Cindy Deters said. "This is a big night for us because we've been in the Tampa Prep-Berkeley Prep district in previous years. We weren't able to break through. Now we have and we're really looking forward to moving on into the playoffs."
The top-seeded Crusaders, who already were assured of a playoff berth and needed only to play the title match in the three-team district, were led by Sam Avery with 10 kills.
_ SPECIAL TO THE TIMES