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Unbeaten Osceola doesn’t miss a beat in claiming district crown

The Warriors keep a smaller Boca Ciega squad guessing while winning in straight sets.

SEMINOLE — When you see the backs of your opponents’ uniforms more than the front, that’s usually a good sign.

Facing a scrappy but vertically-challenged Boca Ciega squad Thursday for the Class 5A, District 7 championship, host Osceola’s offense was a precise and powerful six-cylinder engine driving to a convincing 25-13, 25-11, 25-13 victory.

After earlier locking down its eighth straight appearance in regionals, Osceola was able to stretch its unbeaten season to 23 matches with the title triumph.

Perhaps the most unusual part of this matchup was that the finalists didn’t face each other during the regular season.

“We had no district games this season,” said Warriors rookie head coach Ashley Martin. “We were lucky and played (Bogie) in the St. Petersburg College preseason tournament 2½ months ago, and they were definitely improved (Thursday), a more disciplined team. They hustled, played tough team defense and really made us work.”

Related: RELATED: There’s plenty of fun in going undefeated. Just ask Osceola

Sophomore Neveah Wright (four blocks) and junior Lauren Six helped the maturing Pirates (12-12 record to date) stay competitive, but Osceola combined savvy work from setters junior Kyla Barker and sophomore Nicole Fowler with a daunting net presence to roll to its 14th straight head-to-head win.

“It’s a lot of fun to play over the net against a smaller team,” said quad-captain Kalli Cors, a force for the Warriors with 11 kills, five aces and a block. “We had the opportunity to run a bunch of plays and really swing a lot harder than I usually can. We’re able to spread the ball around easier — our setter (Barker, who finished with 15 assists) is improved and really good at distributing the ball to our middle and right-side hitters. That makes us harder to defend because our setters can be so creative with their choices.”

“We have five hitters on the floor from the back row to the front row,” Martin said. “They're ready at all times, and it wears out our opponents that have to defend the entire court and guess who we're playing the ball to.”

Osceola also put together at least one dominating run to break open competitive sets.

An ace from Fowler and four straight from Cors created an 8-1 run to close out the first set. After a Wright block and some errant Warrior returns sliced a six-point second-set lead to two, Fowler ran off 10 straight service points with a pair of aces to break things wide open. And after aces from junior Lindy Boyan and Wright drew the Pirates even at 9-9 in the third, aces from Cors and senior Abbie Busch sparked a 10-1 run that essentially locked up the district championship.

“Our offense is nothing without good passing and good serving,” Martin said. “We work on that constantly in practice.”

And with regionals not starting until Oct. 23, Osceola will be looking to fine tune its game even further.

“We'll be looking to cut out some errors and get comfortable with swinging against taller teams that can block us,” Martin explained. “St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor did that (to us this year) but we don't see it a lot, so the coaches and our male coaches will be out there at practice to give the girls different looks to work through.”

“We won districts my freshman year but finished second the past two years,” said Cors, a senior. “It was a big goal of mine to win (Thursday), and now that we’re hosting a first-round game — and hopefully more after that — that brings a lot of pride to our school, our fans and our faculty.”