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Cobras, 'Cats face open field

In reality, all Hudson won Thursday night was a district championship, but the way the Cobras have celebrated, you'd think they won the Stanley Cup.

Just as hockey's champions each get a day to savor the Cup personally, Hudson's players each had their own turn Friday and Monday carrying their Class 4A, District 10 trophy around campus.

"I just got my trophy back," Hudson coach Linda McQuade said Monday afternoon. "I asked them if it was okay if I saw it for just a second. They're pretty excited today."

The Cobras (22-4) host Central (20-7) tonight; if they win they'll have something else to celebrate: the chance to host Saturday's region semifinals and final. Hudson, boosted by its Cobra Crazies student cheering section, could travel all the way to the state final four without having to leave home.

"It's a very big deal," McQuade said of homecourt advantage. "All these years we've been involved in the state finals, this is the first time we've ever had that opportunity."

Hudson split the Sunshine Athletic Conference crown with Mitchell and River Ridge, but the Cobras have one advantage over the Mustangs and Knights: there is no juggernaut in their region to stand in the way this postseason. The same is true for runner-up Wesley Chapel, which gave the Cobras their only district loss but has a tough opening match tonight at Clermont East Ridge.

"If we can get past the first game, that would be great," said coach Julie Marks, whose team has one playoff victory in three postseason appearances.

The Wildcats, like Hudson, are loaded with seniors. Marks said her players didn't all realize the finality of their next loss until they eliminated Ridgewood in last week's district semifinal.

"One of the girls said, "Oh, my God, they're done now,' " Marks said. "They know once you're done, you're done. We're not going to be going forever, and if we lose, we're done."

Neither team practiced Friday, giving players a long weekend to relax. McQuade said her team can actually thank Wesley Chapel for the Cobras' recent success that has played out since they were upset by the Wildcats three weeks ago.

"Ever since Wesley Chapel and that awful game we played, it kind of sparked everybody, raised the level," McQuade said. "That was an okay game to lose, if there is such a thing, because it didn't change our status in the conference or district. Sometimes when you lose games here and there, it makes you a little humble."

Hudson is focusing on getting more of a showing like they had against Wesley Chapel in Thursday's district final, when the Cobras won in four games. For McQuade, that means the same effort from every player, starter or reserve, from start to finish.

"One spoke can't be bent," she said. "I think we have the capabilities of making a run, and we've really stepped up our level of play, across the board. We're going to need everybody to be on for us when we play."