Amid the cheers from those in the crowd and the nail-biting from those on the Clearwater bench, Monique Marier remained focused during Tuesday's regional quarterfinal against Lakewood, keeping herself in constant motion.
With her team trailing and one point away from having its undefeated season washed away, Marier prepared for a pivotal serve, backpedaling on the court as the ball sailed toward her. She kneeled down and reached out, delivering a perfect pass to pass to Kellie Haire.
Haire set the ball to Marier and she was ready. With her legs moving and arms pumping, Marier stopped, jumped, and struck the ball with authority as it reached its destination. A sideout was forced and the season was saved.
Marier, a senior middle hitter, showed her leadership throughout the match, offering advice and encouragement. But it was her own performance that gave the Tornadoes enough momentum to win in three games and advance to Friday's regional final.
"We couldn't be nervous in a match like that," Marier said. "We've been in those situations before and came through. We don't give up."
During the past three seasons, Clearwater has counted on that type of effort from Marier, whose hitting ability is noticed by opponents, often making them duck and cover.
But there was a time when Marier wasn't such a hit.
When she arrived at Clearwater four years ago, Marier had all the athletic ability. She was strong and quick and intelligent. The only only problem was she couldn't hit.
Each time she would approach the net, elevating her body in hopes of sending the ball spiraling down the opposite side of the court, something always seemed to go wrong. The ball would fall into the net or fly out of bounds, never reaching its intended target.
"It was very frustrating for me," Marier said, "Everyone expected me to pound the ball and I couldn't. I was very uncontrolled and I was starting to wonder whether I'd be able to get it down."
Determined to become a better hitter, Marier spent countless hours at the Clearwater YMCA after her freshman season, joining a club team to develop her technique.
"I think my turning point was joining the club team," Marier said. "I believe I'm a hard worker and I want to succeed at whatever I'm doing. I wanted to be able to hit the ball and I did."
A two-sport athlete, Marier spends most of her time training. She plays volleyball on the high school and club level and plays softball for the Clearwater Bullets. While her schedule is busy, Marier still maintains a 4.0 GPA.
"I hope that I'm setting a good example with everyone," Marier said. "I want to keep everyone striving and make sure the team is mentally tough."
On Friday, the Tornadoes will need Marier's leadership and experience as they travel to Fort Myers for what is considered the toughest region in the state.
Clearwater, ranked No. 2 in Class 5A, plays No. 3 Durant at 4 p.m. If the Tornadoes win, they'll meet the winner between top-ranked Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and Fort Myers in the championship at 8.
"Monique has shown tremendous improvement throughout the years," Clearwater coach Anne Balderson said. "She is just a marvelous person, too. Everyone will be key for us on Friday, even those sitting on the bench, but Monique definitely will be key."