Hudson and Zephyrhills were the two best volleyball teams in Pasco County this season, and accordingly gave the area three of its most exciting matches when they met.
If the two teams are to add a fourth thriller, they will need to escape regional play. The semifinals and finals are held today across the state.
And we mean, literally, across the state. While Hudson will travel to Orlando Bishop Moore for the North II Regional today, that's a mere stone's throw compared to the trip facing Zephyrhills. The Bulldogs must travel to Pace.
How far is Pace? Here is a hint: Central standard time.
Of course, changing time zones isn't a problem for the Bulldogs (21-6). Finding a hotel room is, considering Pace is booked for its annual air show and craft show.
So the Bulldogs will be heading out on a coach bus at 6:30 a.m., driving 9 hours, playing, then driving back.
"They'll have to sleep on the bus," said Zephyrhills coach Pat Moul.
Moul and her players aren't gnashing their teeth over the trip, though. After one of the finest seasons in school history, including Tuesday's 15-13, 16-14 quarterfinal victory over Citrus, the Bulldogs are looking forward to trying to win two more matches and earning a first-ever trip to the state final four.
"The kids are fine with it (the travel)," Moul said. "It was just frustrating setting it up. We didn't find out until 2:45 p.m. yesterday. I had to call 15 places to even get a bus."
9-ranked Bulldogs will meet Mount Dora (13-9) at 4:30 p.m. CST. Led by Kari Richards and Caroline Pitz, the Hurricanes were district runners-up to Bishop Moore and beat District 5 champion Alachua Santa Fe Tuesday to advance.
The Bulldogs will have an edge in size with 5-foot-11 Kristen Schleicher and 5-9 Amy Palmer. Loraine Clausnitzer is not as tall but has been a clutch net player, and setter Lizabeth Torres has been impressive. If the Bulldogs offense doesn't come at the net, it could from the back with serving. Jennifer Strickland served 12 straight points against Citrus, and Torres and Elaina McAdams also are strong from behind the line.
In the other North I semifinal, Pace (27-2) will meet Fernandina Beach (22-5) at 6 p.m. CST.
Hudson has a much shorter trip for its regional, but the path through it will not be as easy. In fact, the North II regional is clearly the best in Class 4A and would make a pretty dandy final four with the Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 teams squaring off.
The No. 3-ranked Cobras (27-3) will meet the hosts and No. 5-ranked Bishop Moore (22-5) at 4 p.m. today, with No. 4 Crawfordville Wakulla playing No.
2 Jacksonville Bishop Kenny at 6 p.m. The two winners will meet at 8 p.m. to decide who goes to state.
The bracket may be the toughest regional in the state, but it could play into Hudson's hands.
"It's like going to another tournament, and these kids like going to tournaments," McQuade said. "They'd rather play away than home. They are just like that."
Three weeks ago, McQuade took her team to the Bishop Moore Invitational and it finished third. The Cobras beat today's opponent in three games, and also got a long look at Bishop Kenny.
"When I left there, I had pretty sufficient notes," McQuade said with a laugh.
It was at the tournament that McQuade settled on Icy Miller as her middle hitter. The coach tried a variety of lineups to cover the loss of Kerri Rulison, and Miller in the middle was the one she settled on. The Cobras haven't lost since.
Miller, who along with Shannon Wisler and Dana Wilke dominated the net in Tuesday's quarterfinal win Lecanto, is just four kills shy of the single-season school record of 203 set by Mandy Holcomb. Now that setter Jill Perez seems more comfortable going to the 5-10 junior, that record could fall with a Cobras win.