The difference between Gulf and Tarpon Springs in Friday night's Class 5A, District 8 volleyball championship wasn't much. About 4 inches to be exact.
That's how much taller Sponger sophomore middle hitter Karah Sullivan was than the tallest Gulf player. That height advantage, and Sullivan's ability to make use of it, was clearly the difference as Tarpon Springs captured the championship with a 15-5, 15-13 victory over the upstart Bucs.
The district title is the first since 1993 for Tarpon Springs.
"This was our goal from day one, from my first day as coach," Tarpon Springs coach Monica Wilson said. "It is awesome. As good as it was as a player, it feels better as a coach."
With Sullivan out of the game, the Bucs held their own, actually outscoring the Spongers during those moments. However, with Sullivan on the floor, it was a different story.
"It makes a lot of difference when she's on the floor," said Wilson, who won district titles as a Sponger player in 1990 and 1991. "When she wants to, she gets sideouts and kills."
Fifteen kills to be exact, to go along with six blocks as Sullivan prevented the Bucs from ever launching a concerted offensive attack.
The victory evened the Spongers at 12-12 and gives them a home match Tuesday when they take on Belleview in a regional quarterfinal. The Bucs, who stunned No.
1-seeded River Ridge to reach the final, will travel to take on District 9 champion Ocala Forest.
Tarpon Springs opened the match with an 8-0 run as Sullivan had four kills and a block and Jenny Shaw served six straight points.
Tarpon continued to dominate at the net, stretching its lead to 11-1 before coasting to the first game win.
In the second game, Gulf scored first. The teams then exchanged 3-0 spurts six times to give Gulf a 10-9 lead.
But the Spongers closed the match by scoring five of the next six points to take a 14-11 lead as Amy Hoch served two aces.
With Sullivan on the floor, Tarpon outscored Gulf 26-9. Without her, Gulf had a 9-4 edge.