WEEKI WACHEE — Hernando coach Robin Bailey, in her first season at the helm after being a longtime assistant, got noticeably emotional after Thursday night’s Class 5A, District 7 championship match.
Her Leopards were able to dominate the final three games against Weeki Wachee to clinch the program’s first district title since 2004, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-19.
Hernando (17-5) lost its first two matches against the Hornets (16-10) during the regular season before snagging the final meeting this month. The teams were seemingly on a collision course all year.
In the first game, Weeki Wachee jumped out to a quick lead, but when a scoreboard malfunction halted play, momentum seemed to swing in Hernando’s favor, and it never really swung back.
“I feel like the girls started to feel some nerves there (at the end of the first game),” Weeki Wachee coach Kelly Werkmeister said. “We just began to miss too many shots.”
Chreslyn Serama did the best she could to rally her teammates, hammering a match-high 20 kills and a team-high three aces, but unforced errors and poor communication were the Hornets’ undoing.
Hernando answered with Tana McDaniel and Ali Bronson. McDaniel had seven kills in the first game to keep her teammates’ confidence high. Freshman phenom Bronson picked things up from there, finishing with a team-high 13 kills and three aces.
“After that first game, we huddled and I told the girls that if we were going to win, we were going to have to be aggressive,” Bailey said.
“I felt like they did that, and it really paid off in the last (three games).”
In the fourth and final game, Hernando jumped out to a 17-2 lead, all but slamming the door. While a solid run made the score closer down the stretch, the Leopards stamped their ticket to host a region match for the first time in almost a decade when they welcome Anclote on Tuesday.
The Hornets will make their first trip to the postseason in any sport, advancing to face Class 5A, District 8 champ Fivay.
6A-10: Mustangs’ stellar season continues
SEMINOLE — It didn’t take long for Osceola coach Ryan Kramer to explain why his team fell short in a 25-19, 15-25, 25-17, 25-18 loss to Mitchell in Thursday’s Class 6A, District 10 championship match.
“Mitchell is big; we’re not,” Kramer said. “That’s pretty much the difference right there.”
The Mustangs have an imposing front court with a trio of 6-foot middle blockers/hitters in Kaylee Gartino, Bailey Sassatelli and Kayla Widera. They can stuff or alter shots whenever they raise their hands at the net. And they have the power to extend a play with a powerful shot, even when they’re pinned in the back row.
“Our size definitely played a big role,” Mitchell coach Keith Paulk said. “We have a lot of weapons and having that height helped us go on a few more long runs, which can lead to points that eventually add up.”
Though the Warriors lost their two regular-season matches to the top-seeded Mustangs, they each went five games. That gave Osceola confidence it could pull through at the end and win its first district title since 1983.
But after winning the second game, the Warriors had to play on their heels, constantly on the defensive digging balls from Mitchell’s deep arsenal of hitters. Katie Newman kept Osceola in the match with a team-leading 35 digs and four aces.
“When we’re hitting solid shots and keeping the ball in play, it forces the other team to have to play defense more,” Paulk said.
For the Mustangs, the district title was just their second in school history and capped what has already been an historic run. Mitchell (22-5) has won 18 straight matches, shattering the school’s previous record of nine in a season.
Better still, the Mustangs have done it by overcoming numerous injuries and playing nearly everyone on the roster.
“We’ve gone through lots of ups and downs all year,” Paulk said. “But this team has been very even-keeled and done a tremendous job of battling through anything that’s come our way.”
5A-8: Falcons sweep
HOLIDAY — The group of fans on their feet with their hands up, forefingers out — the signal that only one point was needed to win the set — changed three times Thursday night: first Fivay, then Anclote, then Fivay.
For the Sharks, the point would have capped a comeback and extended the match. For the Falcons, it would win the district championship.
Fivay prevailed in the 5A-8 final, beating Anclote 25-15, 25-23, 29-27.
Fivay kept the lead for most of the first game. Anclote drove harder in the second, pulling ahead for a stretch and tying the score at 20, 21 and 22. The Sharks continued to build that momentum in the third set until it was impossible to tell who would take it.
Coach Nikki Pollock spread her hands, palms facing the floor, as Fivay battled for the third set and the match.
“I just told them to keep calm,” she said. “To just keep playing our game.”
Anclote took the lead for the first time in the third at 17-16. From there, it was a back-and-forth battle, with ties and Anclote staying ahead by one point.
A kill by Fivay’s Amber Lake pushed the Falcons to a 26-25 lead, and fans rose to their feet.
An error tied the score again, and Anclote’s Aaliyah Anderson scored a kill, bringing Sharks fans to their feet.
Fivay’s Alli Hudson scored the next point, tying the score a third time.
Ashleigh Nemetz’s kill set off the Fivay fans. She jumped to block a kill on the next play and scored, winning the set and the match.
Five Fivay players walked to the scorers to retrieve the victor’s trophy together. Two of them wiped tears off their cheeks as they carried it back to their team.
Nemetz led the Falcons with 16 kills and Briannah Nemetz had 15. Jordyn Mattos had four kills and 46 assists.
3A-7: Bishop can’t slow Tampa Prep
Tampa Prep started fast in Thursday night’s Class 3A, District 7 championship, pushing the tempo and executing its game plan well.
The Terrapins relented in the second set, just long enough for Bishop McLaughlin to make it interesting. But Tampa Prep pulled away, earning a 25-14, 22-25, 25-14, 25-19 home victory and adding another district title to its storied program.
“We got a big lead and then kind of relaxed,” Terrapins coach Andrew Wilson said. “You can’t do that. Bishop’s a good team. They have some good attackers. This is the playoffs. There is no relaxing.”
Tampa Prep (14-10) picked up the pace and regained its aggression enough to hold off the Hurricanes (17-6), who are headed to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Junior Corey Perkins had 17 kills and 15 digs for the Terrapins. Claire Blumenthal added 17 digs, and Kamryn Beach had two of her nine kills early while chipping in five blocks.
Odd classes Tuesday; even classes Wednesday. 7 p.m.
7A: Plant City at Wiregrass Ranch-Steinbrenner winner*
6A: Hillsborough at Mitchell
5A: Weeki Wachee at Fivay
5A: Anclote at Hernando
3A: Bishop McLaughlin at
Winter Haven All Saints’
*Wiregrass Ranch plays Friday
Staff writers Mary Kenney, Bob Putnam and Matt Baker contributed to this report.