WINTER HAVEN — In the state’s brightest high school spotlight, Plant’s volleyball team sparkled Saturday night in the Class 7A state final.
From the Panthers’ fun-loving dance to the blaring music at Polk State College minutes before the match, to the final point less than 90 minutes later, there never seemed to be a doubt about the outcome.
The state’s No. 1-ranked Panthers were no less than devastating in a 25-19, 25-21, 25-21 victory over the state’s No. 2 team, Winter Park.
Plant, in fact, trailed for less than a couple of minutes the entire night, and never by more than one point.
“We were determined and confident and we felt totally prepared,” said Plant libero Bella Lee, a University of Florida commit who had 30 digs that often seemed to suck some of the life out of Winter Park after it fired down what appeared to be a sure kill. “I wouldn’t say we were even nervous.
“You could say we were excited. We were eager. We believed we would do it.”
The brightest star? You could make an argument for Lee, but there were plenty more to choose from, including: Maggie Dostic (18 kills, 16 digs) and Kaylee Peper (12 kills, 1.5 blocks), along with Samantha Karjala, Kylee Roberts, Lara Matta and setter Sophie Dostic, who was deft at teeing up all of the above.
“We have many great players and we have confidence in all of them,” first-year Plant coach McKensie Herold said. “They are a special group, and they are goofy (referring to the pre-match dance), but I let them be goofy because I know that’s their personality. That’s how they stay loose. But once the match starts they are focused and they get their jobs done.”
Do they ever.
In their five playoff matches, the Panthers (25-3) lost only one set (against Venice in the region final) and didn’t come close to dropping a set in the semifinals or final.
Part of the motivation, Maggie Dostic said, stemmed from last year’s devastating region final loss to Venice after giving away five match points.
“We were determined to come back after that and play better than ever,” said Dostic, a University of Tennessee commit. “We worked harder than ever this year. This time we felt so prepared.”
The volleyball state championship is the 12th for the Panthers (the last came in 2021), ranking them fourth in Florida High School Athletic Association history. Only Cardinal Gibbons (20), Berkeley Prep (16) and Tampa Prep (15) have more state titles.
Before Saturday, Winter Park (29-3) had won 22 straight matches and appeared like it might have enough to beat the favored Panthers.
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“But we weren’t worried about any of that,” Lee said. “We were just focused on what we were doing for our team. We were all just playing for each other and that’s a big reason for our success.”