CLEARWATER — Academy of the Holy Names advanced to the Class 5A, District 9 final after a thrilling 25-17, 15-25, 25-23, 23-25, 15-11 win over No. 2 seed Clearwater Central Catholic on Tuesday night. The win guarantees the Jaguars (18-8) a region tournament match next week after a one-year hiatus from the postseason.
Berkeley Prep, on the other hand, ended a 23-year postseason streak after a 25-22, 23-25, 22-25, 11-25 loss to top seed Sarasota Cardinal Mooney. The Bucs (11-16) were the Class 5A state champs last season but graduated seven players.
AHN will play Cardinal Mooney (21-7) for the district championship on Thursday at 7 at CCC.
"We're an undersized team so we constantly have to battle," first-year Jaguars coach Randy Thomas said. "We have to work hard for every point. We just have to keep pushing. I think that showed after losing the second set and bouncing back to win the third."
The Jaguars, who got swept by the Marauders in the regular season, showed they meant business after winning the first set thanks to a 6-1 run early in the match that gave them a 13-8 lead. They were able to put away the set on a kill by Brianna Benito. Benito ended with 18 kills.
CCC (15-8) dominated the second set. The Marauders had a 7-1 run midway through the set that included big kills from Victoria Hensley, Linsey Harrison and Sophia Simeoni.
AHN finished strong in the third set by scoring five of the final seven points. That set up an exciting fourth set. Trailing 22-19, CCC scored four straight points, two of which were Harrison kills, and took a 23-22 lead.
The Jaguars got a kill from Mackenzie Ker to make it 23-23, but CCC scored the final two points on a Harrison kill and a net violation to tie the match at 2-2.
The final set was tied six times to start. But a Benito kill, a block and a Ker kill made it 9-6. From there, AHN never gave up the lead and put the match away on a service error.
"It wasn't an easy match the whole time, we really had to fight," Benito said. "We got swept by them the first time and we just did a completely different lineup this time. We just couldn't be timid. In a match like this, you might as well go for it."
Camryn McClendon chipped in with 13 kills for AHN. Olivia Mortellaro had 29 digs.
Berkeley Prep came out swinging in its match. The Bucs never trailed and got good net play from Ava Swain and Camryn Carlo. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set but faded after that. Cardinal Mooney took its first lead at 7-6 and pulled out to a 22-16 lead before putting it away.
After another close third set, the Bucs seemed to run out of gas in the fourth set.
"It's hard," Berkeley coach Mackenzie Tichenor said. "Our girls fought hard. They played well."