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Injuries take toll on Gators squad

(ran PAS edition)

"Hurting" is how Land O'Lakes High volleyball coach Jerry Stacy described his team before last week's Class 4A, District 8 playoffs.

And that's no way to go into post-season play.

With setter Tracy Fowler sidelined with a fractured finger, the Gators (10-16 in the regular season, 5-5 in the district) limped into their first-round match against Gulf Tuesday. Freshman Karla Regan, a junior varsity player, stepped in for Fowler.

"Karla was in the right spot at the right time," Stacy said.

Regan filled in admirably, and Stacy declined to blame the Gators' 15-11, 15-10 loss on the freshman's inexperience. Rather, he attributed Land O'Lakes' first-round ouster to a lack of aggressiveness.

"It was one of those kind of situations where people either rise to the occasion or not, and we didn't," Stacy said. "The team was very flat."

Gulf was not exactly a volleyball power, evidenced by its elimination in the next round. But the Buccaneers won because of Land O'Lakes' string of hitting errors and passing miscues.

"We didn't attack real strong, so Gulf just kept it in play," Stacy said.

Fowler, a captain along with Meghan McLaughlin and Jessica McCoy, was injured in a tune-up for the districts. Although she had been sidelined during the year with a nagging ankle injury, Fowler had returned to the lineup and was fine-tuning her game when she broke the middle finger on her left hand in the Port Charlotte Invitational.

The Gators were on the low rung of the playoff ladder, having finished the regular season below .500. But Stacy pointed out that there were several strong individual performances this year.

McLaughlin was the Gators' leading hitter, averaging nearly eight kills per game. McCoy was the top defender with about 120 digs. She also set up middle hitters McLaughlin and Nicki Clevenger with accurate passing.

Land O'Lakes' top performance in a tournament was its sixth-place finish in the mid-season Suncoast Classic at Hudson. That series included 16 teams and lifted the Gators to 7-9 at the time, the closest the team would get to .500.