A Citrus volleyball season that surpassed most expectations and sometimes surprised even the team itself ended in bitter disappointment Tuesday night.
Despite a gallant comeback in both games, the Hurricanes lost on their home court 15-13, 16-14 to Zephyrhills.
Zephyrhills, the Class 4A, District 8 runner-up ranked No.
9, advances to Friday's regional semifinals. The Hurricanes finished 17-6.
Zephyrhills coach Pat Moul said she was "relieved" to leave Inverness with a win.
"I'm excited but there's a lot more to do so I don't want to get too excited," Moul said. "When it started to get close in that second game, they sort of tightened up. But they worked their way through it and that's good."
In both games, Citrus opened up a lead, only to let it slip away midway through the match. Trailing 4-0 in the first game, Bulldogs' senior Jennifer Strickland served seven straight points to give her team a 7-4 lead. Zephyrhills led 13-8, but Citrus made a run of its own, pulling to within one point (14-13). But a net violation gave the ball back to the Bulldogs, who closed out the match with an ace from Tracy Negoshian.
Zephyrhills was aided by a stellar defensive effort that didn't allow many easy kills. And the Bulldogs took advantage of the Citrus rotation that put its two best players (Jessica Davila and Chrissy Susi) side-by-side in the back row, while one of the Bulldogs' best players, Amy Palmer, was in the front row.
"The rotation just kind of worked out that way," Moul said. "But when I've got four hitters in any rotation, we're just not that weak."
Citrus coach Pat King said she's successfully used that rotation all season, which is designed to have the two seniors in the back row when the less experienced hitters are up front.
"When the younger players are up there, we have to have better passing and they have to block and transition in the net," King said. "We didn't have that tonight. It's sort of disappointing that there were problems with things we've worked so hard on. The passing we've worked so diligently on, the serving faults we had. The little things."
In the second game, Citrus led 5-1, but again it was Strickland to the rescue. With Zephyrhills trailing 5-4, Strickland served her team to a 14-5 lead and match point.
"I wasn't nervous. I just knew I had to serve it in," Strickland said.
But Citrus wasn't ready to go home just yet. The Hurricanes put together some stellar defense and composed itself on offense to stave off four match points and tie the game at 14. Five sideouts later, the Bulldogs won the game and match.
"It's harder to be down then try to come back and not make it," Susi said. "It's hard, sad and depressing (knowing her career has ended)."
Davila finished the game with six kills and three dinks, while Susi had seven kills. Kristen Schleicher had six kills for Zephyrhills and Palmer added five.
"The team did the best they could," Davila said.