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A night of intrigue for volleyball teams

You are not supposed to look ahead. The next opponent is the only opponent. Take care of the matter at hand.

And yet, the temptation is just too much.

So you look, if you are a Hudson fan, and you see 16-time champion Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons is not in your regional, and you are happy at the possibilities.

And you look, if you are a Zephyrhills fan, and see a not-so-imposing path to the regional final, and you think: Maybe. Just maybe.

And with one eye covered and the other in a wince, you look if you are a Gulf fan. You see a match far away against a team you know nothing about, and you think: River Ridge.

But first things first. Tonight, all three area volleyball teams will open up state playoff action in regional quarterfinals. In Class 4A, Hudson hosts Lecanto at 7 p.m. and Zephyrhills takes on Citrus in Inverness at 6. In Class 5A, Gulf visits Ocala Forest at 7.

They are all intriguing matchups, if not for the opponent then certainly for what may lie ahead. Here's what lies ahead tonight:

CLASS 4A, NORTH II: Hudson, the District 8 champion, hosts a first-round game for the third straight year. And for those looking for good omens, the Cobras are 2-0 in those matches.

Hudson will be favored to make it 3-0 tonight. The Cobras picked up their play when it counted most last Thursday in beating Zephyrhills for the championship, and showed the kind of poise and hustle and determination that make them a serious threat for the final four.

Even without top player Kerri Rulison, the Cobras still boast one of the county's best hitters in Icy Miller, the smooth setting of Jill Perez, and the fine net play of senior Shannon Wisler.

"I think they reached down and found an internal source to push themselves," coach Linda McQuade said.

The external source has been McQuade, who guided the Cobras to the regional semifinal last year (they lost to Sarasota Booker) and the final in 1995 (a loss to Cardinal Gibbons). Her squad appears to be peaking at the right time.

Lecanto isn't. The smallish Panthers were drummed in their district final, and despite returning five seniors have stumbled to 13-12.

CLASS 4A, NORTH I: The Bulldogs will take a trip to Inverness. Unfortunately, many parents may not.

Because many work in Tampa, and particularly because many work until 5 or 6 p.m., tonight's 6 p.m. starting time may diminish the Bulldog following.

The Bulldogs will have their hands full with a quick but small Citrus team.

The Hurricanes (17-5) will not scare any teams out of the gymnasium, but they are fundamentally sound and athletic. Their best hitter, 5-foot-6 senior Jessica Davila, is a superb leaper if not an inconsistent offensive weapon. When she is on, she gives teams fits. Citrus also has 5-8 senior Chrissy Susi, who is strong in the middle. The key, however, will be the setting. If sophomore Julie Hodson can get the ball to Davila, the Hurricanes will be a threat.

Citrus, a perfect 10-0 in its district, beat Lecanto in the final and earned the right to play at home. Last year, it did the same (at the 5A level) and advanced to the regional semifinals before losing.

"I think home could be important," said Citrus coach Pat King. "When we were playing in 5A (last season), home was definitely important because the distances were so significant then. This one is a 1{-hour drive, and that could still be significant. If your team's in shape and is mentally ready, it's not going to matter as much."

Is Zephyrhills in shape and mentally ready? It looked tired down the stretch against Hudson in the district final. But Zephyrhills coach Pat Moul said her team will be ready.

"I think it was more mental exhaustion," she said. "As long as we play to our capabilities we do not have a problem. I think the teams we have played have prepared us well for this."

CLASS 5A, NORTH I: Does the clock hit midnight for Cinderella Gulf? In Ocala Forest, the Bucs (7-13) face the kind of team that gives them trouble _ tall and strong in the middle. The Wildcats (19-9) have 6-2 middle blocker Miriam Mitchum and 6-0 Aura Bouvier.

But the smallish Bucs, behind Laura O'Brien, Jordan Brown and Christina Diana, knocked off bigger Land O'Lakes and River Ridge. They were obviously suffering a hangover from the River Ridge win when the Spongers beat them, but surely are over that. Now the question is, can they hit over the Wildcats?

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