The Pasco-Hernando Community College volleyball team has made a habit of going up against a juggernaut in the state tournament.
In each of the past five seasons, since the Florida Community College Activities Association split the state tournament into Gulf and Atlantic districts, PHCC won the former with Miami-Dade claiming the latter. This season was no different, as Miami-Dade beat PHCC last weekend in the state title game for the sixth straight time.
"It went just like it was supposed to, I guess," PHCC Sam Cibrone said.
The Conquistadors are not the only ones to struggle against the Sharks, the nation's top-ranked team coming off a sixth national championship and having won the state series 34 of the past 35 years. Only Manatee in 1988 beat them at state.
As Gulf District champion and state runner-up, PHCC extends its postseason with a sixth consecutive national berth. The National Junior College Athletic Association tournament begins Nov. 24 in West Plains, Mo.
"As long as we get to the show," Cibrone said.
PHCC (36-7) went 3-1 in the state tournament at Brevard Community College in Titusville, beating Manatee twice and Gulf Coast once before losing 30-12, 30-25, 30-28 to Miami-Dade.
"We gave them a run," Cibrone said of the final match. "We were hanging with them."
PHCC sophomore setter Alicia Willemet, the Suncoast Conference Player of the Year, and freshman Beth Slabaugh, an outside hitter, were named to the all-tournament team.
PHCC, ranked 11th by the NJCAA, went 2-1 against Manatee during the season and added two more wins over the conference runner-up in the state series. PHCC beat Manatee 30-25, 30-27, 30-24 and 30-27, 30-25, 14-30, 31-29.
In between those games the Conquistadors beat Gulf Coast 30-20, 30-18, 30-27.
Cibrone said his players were "just not getting rattled in clutch situations.
"It's a young team. You never know how they're going to do in the postseason until you get there," Cibrone continued. "They did fine."
Willemet led PHCC in the tournament with 128 assists and tied Tiffany Davidson for the team lead in aces with 12.
Ingrid Linhares, second in the nation with a 5.0 digs average, had 73 digs and 66 perfect passes. Slabaugh contributed 57 kills, and Leah Schmiedge had 39 kills and eight blocks.