LARGO — The district semifinals are where true playoff pressure begins. Win and there's a berth in regionals and at least two more games to look ahead to; lose and the season is done then and there.
After Calvary Christian shook off six-point deficits to win the second and third sets in Thursday's Class 4A-4 semifinal at Indian Rocks Christian, Gabriela Quarles and the other seniors on top-seeded Carrollwood Day saw the end of the line on the horizon, and that was unacceptable.
"My girls had me, they just kept things positive; we're going to do this," Quarles said, and the Patriots delivered.
With Quarles and setter Kendel Saigol as a potent 1-2 punch, blending well junior Ally-Reese Williams' strong overall play, CDS (now 20-2, 10-0 in district play) took the fourth and fifth sets decisively en route to a 25-22, 25-27, 26-28, 25-20, 15-7 victory over the fourth-seeded Warriors (8-8, 6-3) to advance to Saturday morning's district final against Shorecrest Prep.
"I can't do it without Kendel," said Quarles, who finished with a team-high 27 kills while Saigol dished out 54 assists. "We've been playing together since sixth grade, through club (with Tampa Elite) into high school — I've had no other setter."
The synergy showed in those two deciding sets as the pair connected for 10 kills. Saigol then fed junior Williams (16 kills and eight aces, nine straight service points in the third set) for Carrollwood's final two points.
"Things weren't going well early, we were jittery, so I moved Kendel and Ally-Reese from third and fourth servers to start up to first and second," said coach Eric Praetorius. "Ally-Reese's serves have great pace and Kendel's been on the varsity since eighth grade."
Calvary rode its own playmaker, senior Caroline Burgess (42 assists) feeding Jessica Berg (12 kills), Linnea Leibert (nine kills), Jadyn Showers and Gracyn Holloway (eight kills each), to an impressive lead after three sets.
"We went five sets with them in the regular season so we knew it would be a tough battle," Warriors coach Caleb Sibert said. "We got into more of an attack mindset instead of being hesitant, but (CDS) started playing faster and got us out of our system a lot."
In the opener, No. 2 Shorecrest shook off the best from No. 3 Northside Christian (16-4, 6-3), especially in the second set, rolling to a 25-13, 26-24, 25-17 win to make the finals.
Savvy scouting by coach Svetlana Simic set up Shorecrest (12-8, 8-2) for success.
"Coach watched game tape and wanted us to be more strategic with our serving, place it closer and tighter to the sideline," said freshman libero Julia Craig. "It's riskier but it helped get them out of their system."
Simic was right as Craig finished with six aces, pairing up with juniors Jacqueline St. Cin (14 kills, eight digs and four blocks) and Jacqueline Perry (nine kills, seven digs and two aces) for a commanding performance.
"We tried to focus on their two main hitters (Julianna Flack with five kills and Morgan Madasz with eight) and let everyone else score, if they score anything. Be patient, play hard defense and it will all pay off."
It did, although against a Carrollwood squad that shut out Shorecrest early in the season.
Quarles concluded: "We were shaking hands (with Calvary post-match) and I saw a senior crying because it was her last game. That would have been me if it was the other way around. I'm not going to let that happen."