TAMPA — For the third time in three weeks and the fourth time this season, Plant and Wharton faced off for a volleyball match.
The latest version came Wednesday night and this time it was do-or-die in a Class 7A region quarterfinal, which many believed would translate to a knock-down, drag-out battle.
Not to be.
Yes, Wharton came out tough to take the first set 26-24, looking confident and rather cool. But then, well, it was pretty much all Plant, which took the final three sets 25-18, 25-12, 25-14 to seal up its third victory in four tries against the Wildcats (21-5).
“We have a lot of experience we can draw from and we use that to our advantage,” said Plant coach Vanja Todorovic, who guided the Panthers to a state final last year before losing. “We don’t get tight because we know what we are capable of.”
Particularly the seniors, including Hailie Gould, Birdie Frierson, Sam Caglianone, Adele Cassidy and Elizabeth Price, all of whom didn’t blink after Wharton won the first set.
In the second set, No. 2 seed Plant (22-7) jumped to a 14-5 lead and never let the seventh-seeded Wildcats within six points the rest of the way. In the final two sets Wharton kept it close only in the fourth set, cutting the score to 13-12 before Plant closed out the match on a 12-2 run.
Overall, Plant did everything — setting, hitting, digging, passing and blocking — better as the match went on, much like it did through the whole season: better and better as time went on.
Frierson looked particularly adept at placing her spikes, cutting and slicing them to open spots.
Plant’s younger players, including junior setters Georgia Lowe and Sophie Fleeger and sophomore hitters Lily Frierson and Reese Friar, also stepped up, seamlessly substituting.
“Every time we go to practice it’s exciting because this team brings so much energy,” Todorovic said. “The younger players are learning from the seniors.”
Plant hosts third-seeded Windermere on Tuesday.