TAMPA — Moments before the district final against Wharton, Plant coach Jessica Lamm directed her team to YouTube to watch video of a race.
In the brief clip, a runner from the University of Minnesota was closing in on first place but fell on her face while making her move. Lamm’s lesson was found in the finish: the woman quickly scrambled to her feet and won the race.
Lamm reminded them of that finishing kick when the Panthers were on the brink of their earliest playoff exit since many of her players were toddlers.
Trailing 2-0 and only a point from elimination, Plant fought back to claim the third game and won the next two Thursday to defeat top-seeded Wharton for the District 8A-7 championship.
“We were flat on our face,” Lamm said. “I told them we’ve got to get back up.”
Ashley Cozart led Plant with 17 kills, Kaitlyn Sibson had 34 digs and 11 kills and Angel Gaskin had 10 kills and a team-leading four blocks, helping the Panthers rally for the second time in as many nights to maintain their streak of 16 straight district titles.
Plant, which has won 10 state titles, last failed to win a district championship in 1997.
But coming into Thursday’s final at Durant, the Panthers (15-0) were a heavy underdog.
The Wildcats (25-2) beat the Panthers earlier in the year, a 3-1 victory at Wharton that announced a change in the county’s volleyball hierarchy and created friction because of what many Plant supporters considered improper behavior by the home crowd.
With much higher stakes on a neutral floor, Wharton continued its domination of the Panthers.
The Wildcats won the first two games 25-19 and 25-12, frustrating Plant with its height and defense.
Before the start of the third game, Lamm pulled her team together and told them this match could come to symbolize their season: the Panthers had just fallen on their face. Now, Lamm said, it was time to get up.
“We weren’t showing the team that we were,” Cozart said. “We weren’t going to give up.”
The Panthers staved off elimination late in the third game, trailing 26-25. Sibson found a soft spot in the defense for the tying score, Wharton followed an error that led to a point then Cozart sealed the win with a kill.
Lamm’s team took control from there, leading throughout the fourth in a 25-14 win and outlasting Wharton 15-13 in the deciding game.
7A-9: Senior helps keep Steinbrenner streak intact
TAMPA — Madison Seuzeneau was aiming for perfection.
Four seasons. Four district titles.
To get there, the Steinbrenner senior had to help her teammates circumvent Freedom’s big hitter Jasmyn Perry, navigate the critical latter parts of three close game then put away the Patriots when they had the chance.
The Warriors executed all of that, well, perfectly.
Able to mix things up with a quick and diverse attack, Steinbrenner captured its fourth district title by beating a game Freedom squad 25-23, 25-22, 25-21 in the Class 7A-9 final at Gaither.
“It feels incredible,” said Seuzeneau, one of only two seniors on the team but the only four-year varsity player.
It was her play in the final game that punctuated the night.
After Perry put the Patriots (16-12) on top 19-17 with a booming kill, Seuzeneau answered with one of her own, then stepped back to the service line and delivered an ace to tie it.
She continued to serve, four more points, including another ace that made it 23-19 and effectively sealed the win.
Steinbrenner led the first two games 19-18 and trailed the third 19-18, but closed with 6-5, 6-4 and 6-2 finishes.
While Perry was outstanding -— a match-high 25 kills and 10 digs — and had help from Ashley Wilson (10 kills), the Warriors came at the Patriots in waves.
Lauren Heldt had a thunderous kill to set up the first game point of the night, which she provided by blocking Perry cleanly at the net.
The second game, Seuzeneau and Heldt keyed a 6-2 run to put the Warriors ahead 19-14 before Avery Bradshaw delivered the winning kill.
And in the third game, Bradshaw and Rachel Mathison combined for five kills to boost Steinbrenner (17-8) to a 12-9 lead.
“We’ve been working on establishing a quicker offense, which maximizes use of all our hitters,” said first-year coach Laura Stegenga.
Seuzeneau had 15 kills for Steinbrenner, Bradshaw 11, Mathison nine and Heldt, who moved to middle blocker to stop Perry after the Patriot had 10 kills in the first set, had six.
Setter Brooke Royals had 34 assists, one more than Freedom setter Kelly Schaller.
3A-8: Terrapins make it five straight
SEFFNER — For all the changes in Tampa Prep’s volleyball program in recent years — from the kids to the coaches to the classifications — district titles remain the common denominator.
Emotionally charged against a gritty, defensive-minded Seffner Christian squad, the Terrapins prevailed in four games in Thursday night’s Class 3A, District 8 final in the Crusaders’ gym. The title is Tampa Prep’s fifth in a row.
“We stayed focused, we had good energy tonight,” said the Terrapins’ Andrew Wilson, the program’s third coach in as many seasons.
“We tend to come out flat and let teams get ahead. We had moments like that tonight, but we did a much better job of keeping up our emotion, keeping up our intensity and keeping focus.”
Sparking Tampa Prep’s attack was 6-foot-2 stalwart Katie Krueger, whose profusion of kills was complemented by junior Rachel Carr’s solid play in the middle as the Terps won the first two games, 25-17 and 25-20.
Ally Parimore, a 5-foot-7 sophomore who had 28 kills in a semifinal win against Carrollwood Day, tallied 18 Thursday for SCA (17-10). The Crusaders won Game 3, 25-23, and took a 4-0 lead in the following game before surrendering 13 of the next 15 points en route to a 25-12 defeat.
“No. 10 (Parimore) on their team is phenomenal,” Wilson said. “I think she just got tired at the end. She couldn’t keep swinging for them.”
Class 7A-8, Riverview 3, Plant City 1: At Brandon, the Sharks spotted the Raiders a 27-25 victory in game one before rolling from there for their third consecutive district title. Plant City had three players with at least 10 kills, led by Alex Arnold’s 15.
Class 6A-11, Sickles 3, Strawberry Crest 1: At King, the Gryphons dropped the first game 27-25 but won the next three against No. 1 seed Strawberry Crest to claim the title. It is Sickles’ first district championship since 2007. The Gryphons had three players with 10 or more kills and they finished with eight blocks in what coach Rob Brashear called “a total team effort.”
Class 5A-11, Robinson 3, Lennard 0: At Spoto, the Knights breezed to a consecutive District 5A-11 title with a three-game victory. Junior outside hitter Lauren Peterson led Robinson with 13 kills and Kylee Gorngpratum chipped in with 16 assists. In two games against Lennard this fall, Robinson won all six games.
Class 4A-9, Berkeley Prep 3, Tampa Catholic 1: At Academy of the Holy Names, the Buccaneers continued their decade-plus run of district championships with a four-game victory over Tampa Catholic. This was their second in District 4A-9 and first under new coach John Coup, a longtime assistant who replaced program architect Randy Dagostino. Sidney Brown led Berkeley Prep with 26 kills and Maddi Alberdi added 49 assists.
Class 2A-8, Cambridge Christian 3, Bayshore Christian 2: At Citrus Park, the Lancers earned their second consecutive Class 2A, District 8 title, getting 31 kills from 5-foot-9 freshman Grace Nelson in a five-game thriller. The teams have met seven times the past two seasons — with Cambridge winning four — and could play again in the region semifinals. Senior Taylor Colburn led Bayshore (21-7) with 12 kills and seven blocks; teammate Erica Dienes added 27 digs.
Jasmyn Perry, Freedom: The Patriots’ big hitter was unstoppable early against Steinbrenner, and though the Warriors adjusted, she finished with 25 kills — many of the emphatic variety — and 10 digs.
Madison Seuzeneau, Steinbrenner: The 5-10 middle hitter led the Warriors in kills with 12, was terrific on defense and her serving exceptional as she helped her squad to a fourth straight district title.
Carlye Owens, Sickles: The Gryphons’ senior setter had a team-high 48 assists and six aces in Sickles’ surprising four-game victory over top-seeded Strawberry Crest.
Caci Andreychuk, Wharton: Though slightly off her season average, the Wildcats’ senior outside hitter had a game-high 16 kills in their five-game loss to Plant. Andreychuk, one of the area’s leaders in kills, had the winning score in the first gameand set up another in the second.
Nadia Hall, Bayshore Christian: The Faith Warriors’ sophomore setter had 41 assists in her team’s five-game loss to Cambridge Christian. Teammate Marie Kelly added 23 kills.
Kelly Drake, Plant City: The Raiders’ junior setter had 40 assists in her team’s four-game loss to Riverview.
By the numbers
3 Consecutive district titles won by Riverview
5 Games played in both semifinals and the final of the District 8A-7 tournament
5 Consecutive district titles won by Tampa Prep
16 Consecutive district titles won by Plant
46 Kills totaled by 5-foot-7 Seffner Christian sophomore Ally Parimore in the Crusaders’ final two district tournament matches
“Our errors were off the chart. Tonight my seniors played very, very well. However, some of my go-to (players) had an off night. Everybody has to be in sync sometimes.” — Bayshore Christian coach Melanie Humenansky
“She was a beast, and we fed the beast.” — Cambridge Christian coach Dave Wolcott on Grace Nelson, who lined up in the middle with 5-6 senior Terrill Zentmeyer (19 kills, 17 digs)
“They’re exhausted? I’m exhausted.” — Plant coach Jessica Lamm after the Panthers played 10 games in two days
News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.
Staff writers Joey Knight and John C. Cotey contributed to this report.