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Plant racks up fifth straight district volleyball title

The Panthers weren’t underestimating Palm Harbor University, which took out the top seed in the semifinals.
Volleyball teams around Tampa Bay are in action for districts this week. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
Volleyball teams around Tampa Bay are in action for districts this week. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Oct. 18

TAMPA — After watching No. 4 seed Palm Harbor University shock top-seeded Steinbrenner the previous night, Plant coach Vanja Todorovic inspired his Panthers on Thursday to keep their collective feet on the pedal against the Hurricanes.

It was no time to let up . . . and No. 2 Plant didn’t.

The Panthers (21-7) rolled to their fifth consecutive district championship with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-14, 25-13) victory against PHU (13-13) for the Class 7A, District 7 title. The match lasted only one hour.

Todorovic remains undefeated in three district finales, and Plant has dropped only two of 17 sets in its streak of five district crowns (the first four vs. Wharton).

“It’s no magic,” Todorovic said. “When we train and we prepare, we prepare for the opponents and we prepare to assert ourselves in the game, and just maintain that momentum ... (Thursday), I think we succeeded.”

Related: RELATED: Palm Harbor University upsets top-seeded Steinbrenner

PHU, playing its third match in as many nights, was trying to pull off its second stunner in a row after knocking off Steinbrenner 8-25, 26-24, 25-20, 14-25, 15-10 less than 24 hours earlier.

That got Todorovic’s attention.

“We weren’t going to make the same error that Steinbrenner did (Wednesday), and underestimate these guys,” Todorovic said. “(PHU) was fighting hard, especially the first two sets.

”They were really trying to assert themselves, and if you look at the depth of the squad, I had twice as many people on my side of the court. Every one of (the PHU players) played with heart. They were diving for balls, they were running hard."

PHU had only a pair of one-point leads in the first set, and never was up in the second.

Related: RELATED: Plant pulls out a four-set thriller over Wharton to advance

The Hurricanes started the third set with a 2-0 lead, but Plant scored the next four points to go in front for good en route to its sixth consecutive win. Leading 8-6, the Panthers pulled away with a 9-2 run. Mackenizie Nichols ended the match for Plant with a block.

“I told my guys in between the sets, (PHU) came back (Wednesday) after (losing the first set) 25-8,” Todorovic said. “They have the grit that it takes to come back.”

Fatigue may have caught up to PHU, which closed the season with nine victories from 11 matches.

“(Wednesday), we played really good and we really wanted that game,” PHU coach Karly Padilla said. "The girls fought like there was no tomorrow. But (Thursday), we were playing three days in a row. They feel a little bit tired.

We still fought, but Plant has got a pretty awesome team."

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