LUTZ — Barely anyone gave Palm Harbor University a chance against Steinbrenner Wednesday night.
Why would they?
Steinbrenner was 21-4 and ranked No. 7 in Class 7A. Palm Harbor University, meantime, was 12-11, ranked No. 38 in Class 7A, had lost to Steinbrenner earlier this season and knew the only way it could qualify for the playoffs was to win the Class 7A, District 7, one of the toughest districts in the state.
PHU not only pulled out a five-set victory but the Hurricanes did it in about the most dramatic way possible, losing the first set 25-8 before loosening up and finishing out the match by taking the second and third sets 26-24 and 25-20, losing the fourth 25-14 and winning the fifth 15-10.
“No doubt that was crazy,” PHU senior captain Katy Cameron said. “There were emotions all over the place.”
After the first-set demolition, Cameron said the team came to the sideline and suddenly, completely, relaxed because, “At that point we said, ‘We really have nothing to lose. Let’s just go for it.’”
Did they ever.
Fellow seniors Claire Patterson, Lulu Sondgerath, Alexis Kostolovos, Ava Schilling and Rhiannon Gartner, along with sophomores Alexa Rangel, Acacia Hager, Sophia Kosttolovos and freshman Addison Engel, played and cheered free and easy.
Did they get tight when Steinbrenner grabbed a 22-19 lead in the second set? No way.
They simply proceeded to win seven of the next nine points.
“We still felt like we had nothing to lose,” Cameron said. “That was it.”
After taking the third set, however, Cameron said, “I think we got overconfident. I think we thought we were just going to go ahead and win.”
Steinbrenner bounced back with authority to take the fourth set.
In the fifth, Cameron believed the key was taking a 10-7 lead.
“I think it got a little too real for (Steinbrenner) when we got to double digits,” Cameron said. “They seemed to get a little tight (miss hitting open kills and serving a couple of balls into the net).”
PHU stayed loose and, of course, went on to win, setting up a district final Thursday night at Plant, which dominated the Hurricanes in three sets Sept. 9.
“(After beating Steinbrenner on Wednesday) I told them, ‘Now we get to go to the big party for free. Hey, we still have nothing to lose. So let’s go for it again like we did tonight,’” coach Karly Padilla said.