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East Lake off to a perfect start in district play

The Eagles top a talented Sunlake team that just lost sophomore star Kylie Ciani to injury, likely for the rest of the season.
East Lake players rejoice after sealing a 25-21, 25-19, 25-22 victory over host Sunlake Thursday night. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Aug. 23

LAND O’ LAKES — East Lake’s volleyball team has had a heckuva hectic and challenging week … and it’s not over yet.

Thursday night at feisty Sunlake marked the Eagles’ third tough match in three days. Before that it was a season-opening victory on Tuesday over tough Wiregrass Ranch, and on Wednesday a loss to powerhouse Steinbrenner. Friday will wrap up the week against a solid group from Land O’ Lakes.

“This match against Sunlake was really important to see how we would play almost immediately after a real high, followed by a tough loss,” East Lake coach Terry Small said. “It was a test of our mental toughness.”

MORE VOLLEYBALL: St. Petersburg impresses in season opener vs. defending state champ Shorecrest

Test passed with a gold star because it also checked off a key Class 6A, District 5 victory: 25-21, 25-19, 25-22.

Sunlake (1-1, 0-1) did give the Eagles (2-1, 1-0) pretty much all they could handle through the first 20 points of each set before East Lake’s senior contingent of Maya Mullally, Alivia Horn, Brooke Thiel and Olivia Thompson along with sophomores Valentina Echeverri and Olivia Aniol made more of the big plays down the stretch.

“We really wanted this because after a big win and a big loss earlier this week, it shows we can still come together and play tough,” Aniol said. “It showed us that we can do it.”

MORE VOLLEYBALL: Bishop McLaughlin begins promising season with sweep of Tampa Catholic

Sunlake, meantime, was in the words of coach of Brian Gonzales, “a little discombobulated” because the Seahawks’ top player, sophomore Kylie Ciani, was on the bench with a torn meniscus sustained in practice Wednesday.

“Ciani is our go-to player and tonight we were sometimes looking for who would be our go-to player,” Gonzales said. “We had players who wanted to step up and we’ll just have to figure that out. We’ll be okay, but tonight it was a little of a shock to not have Ciani.”

Gonzales said Ciani will almost definitely miss the rest of the season while rehabbing from surgery.

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