PLANT CITY — After their sudden-death, five-set loss to Durant on Sept. 21, the Steinbrenner High volleyball team prepared for a possible rematch.
After six weeks of waiting, the Warriors executed with near perfection on Tuesday to sweep undefeated host Durant, 25-18, 25-21 and 25-22, in the Class 7A-Region 2 semifinals and advance to their second consecutive region final.
Steinbrenner (23-3) will host Orlando Lake Nona in the region championship Saturday at 2 p.m. in search of the program’s first trip to the state tournament. Durant ends the season 28-1.
“Ever since the first time we played them and we lost in a heartbreaker, 13-15 in the fifth game, that’s all we’ve been talking about and preparing for,” Steinbrenner coach Laura Stegenga said. “We knew that they were going to be that big, ultimate play in the regional playoffs. They played outstanding. We were all expecting a fifth-game crunch again.”
Junior Avery Bradshaw had 15 kills, Lauren Heldt had 10 and Rachel Mathison had nine kills for the Warriors. Junior setter and defensive specialist Brooke Royals had 33 assists and was deceptive at the net with six kills.
“I saw that their defense was playing really wide, and I knew the middle of the court was wide open and I took advantage of that, and obviously we took advantage of that,” Royals said.
Durant senior Lexi Thompson finished with 17 kills in her high-school finale, and in doing so, set a school record for kills in a season with 263.
8A-2: Palm Harbor ousts Bloomingdale
PALM HARBOR – Naomi Mack’s first kill of the night didn’t seem to mean much at the time. It provided Palm Harbor University a 6-5 lead in the first game of the Class 8A-Region 2 semifinal against Bloomingdale.
PHU (21-8) would never trail again after that moment, defeating Bloomingdale 25-15, 25-20 and 25-16. The victory sends the Hurricanes to their first region final Saturday at Winter Park.
“It just goes to show that hard work does really show results,” said Mack, who finished with nine kills and four blocks. “We’ve been working really hard since August, and it’s just a really good feeling.”
As Bloomingdale (18-12) struggled to find its footing, PHU repeatedly went on the attack. The Canes raced out to leads of 7-1 and 11-1, respectively, during the final two games.
“They dug a lot of balls and they kept a lot of balls in play and they didn’t make a lot of errors,” said Bloomingdale coach Margeaux Sinibaldi. “That’s a hard team to beat right there.”
Also turning in impactful performances at the net alongside Mack were Jazmine Barker (seven kills, seven blocks) and AnnaMarie Huy (seven kills, four blocks).
Eric Horchy, Suncoast News
3A-2: Tampa Prep tops Bishop McLaughlin
TAMPA — At a number of points in the Class 3A-Region 2 semifinal, the match turned into a battle of wills between Bishop McLaughlin big hitters Alyssa Mathis and Aileen Hnatiuk and Tampa Prep outsides Corey Perkins and Alana Nelson. The Hurricanes took a see-saw first set, before dropping three straight to Tampa Prep as the Terps advanced with a 3-1 (26-24, 25-12,25-23, 25-22) win.
“We knew we just had to stay strong on defense,” Nelson said. “They are both really good athletes, and with them we knew we had to limit our errors.”
After trading leads and dropping the first set, Tampa Prep’s balance started to take over. Mathis’ power led to 16 kills, five blocks and two aces to go with 14 kills for Hnatiuk, but the Terrapins relied on variety to take over in a dominant second set with four straight points in two runs and five straight in another. Nelson led the way with 16 kills and four aces, while Perkins finished close behind with 12 kills, and Ariana Mosely had 11 kills to go along with three blocks.
However, one of the biggest surprises for the Terrapins was the effort of freshman Caitlin Zettle who, filling in for setter Natali Galdos (concussion), had 44 assists.
2A-2: Tampa Bay HEAT headed to region final
BRANDON — In its first year of playing in the FHSAA, the home-schooled Tampa Bay HEAT are making quite an impression. Tampa Bay HEAT stopped Cambridge Christian for the fourth time this season 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 28-26 to advance to the Class 2A-Region 2 final.
In the first set, Cambridge was up 22-18 when Catherine Trueheart of the HEAT came up to serve. She aced four of the next five serves to lead to a comeback victory, punctuated by an Abigail Hodges kill that ended the set.
The second set was nearly the opposite. With the HEAT winning 13-8, Cambridge’s Lauren Steinle served 10 straight points. Grace Nelson slammed five kills in the stretch and Steinle served an ace. With Nelson regularly soaring above the net to slam the ball to the floor, the winning point came on a setup that looked like another kill. As two HEAT players prepared to attempt a block, Nelson softly placed the ball over the net.
HEAT standout Victoria Truheart, relatively quiet in the first two sets, came alive in the third and fourth games with seven kills in the third set and 11 in the fourth. She had 20 kills on the night.
Hodges added 11 kills and Ari La Roe had 42 assists.