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Cobras in good position to lead or get out of way

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

As seven teams approach the midseason point in Class 4A District 8, four teams -- River Ridge, Mitchell, Hudson and Tarpon Springs -- are deadlocked with one district loss. That will change this week after two key matchups.

River Ridge (9-1) and Hudson (5-1) meet tonight in the home of the Cobra Crazies. Hudson continues a challenging week with a trip to Mitchell on Thursday. There, the Cobras can avenge their only loss of the season, when they failed to convert six match points in the season opener.

It's a two-game swing that could propel the Cobras to the top of the standings or leave them on the outside looking in.

"I think we're doing fine," said Hudson coach Linda McQuade, whose team has played four fewer matches overall than its district rivals. "I'm happy with their performance up to this point."

The jockeying for position has one key benefit -- the team that finishes the season atop the district standings earns a first-round bye in the district tournament, which starts Oct. 28 at Tarpon Springs. That team needs only one win to reach the region playoffs; the others face a first round that will likely send at least one above-.500 team home early.

UP AND DOWN: First-year Pasco coach Ramiro Tejada has seen a little of everything from his team -- three wins to start the season, then three losses against tougher opponents.

"Since the first game against Wesley Chapel, they've looked out of synch," said Tejada. "I don't know if they were intimidated or what, as if they forgot how to play volleyball."

He expected swings with a lineup that has two returning starters -- juniors Amy Herndon and Erica Flicker -- and no seniors. Of the four new starters, only junior Allison Selig has varsity experience. Sophomore Casey Roy played junior varsity last season and sophomore Jamie Pass and freshman Ashley Naughton are in their first high school season.

"Once they all start to mesh together, the main goal is to get out of districts," Tejada said. "We're hoping that maybe by two-thirds through the season, they all know what they're going to be playing and are playing together."

The Pirates enjoyed the first winning season in their program's history last year, and with Wesley Chapel as the only team with a winning record in the five-team Class 3A, District 10 standings, it wouldn't take much for Pasco to earn a return trip to the region playoffs.

NOT FULL STRENGTH: River Ridge is off to a strong start after beating Mitchell at home last week, but the Knights won nine of their first 10 despite being limited by injuries. Junior middle hitter Krystal Dennis has been sidelined with mononucleosis, though she should make a healthy return in time for districts. Another junior, outside hitter Carley Stevens, has recently returned after missing the first month of the season with a dislocated knee.

HOME AT LAST: Mitchell (11-3) has played more matches than any other county team, but tonight's home match against Ridgewood will be the Mustangs' first home game since they hosted the New Port Richey Volleyfest on Sept. 6. Mitchell has seven of its next nine matches at home, welcome news to coach Joe Dixon.

"We haven't even put our court up in the center position," said Dixon, whose team played with multiple matches going at once during the tournament.

One lesson Dixon took from last week's loss to River Ridge was that his team needs to be more aggressive with its serving.

"Since the first part of the season, we've really tapered off," he said. "We're not shooting for aces, and we need to take a little more chances. They're getting it in, and our serve percentage is good, but our ace percentage isn't up where it could be."

DINKS: Wesley Chapel (6-2) got eight kills and seven service winners from senior Angela Medvid in a win against Pasco last week. With outside hitter Jennifer Robinson sidelined with a sprained ankle, junior Lindsay Lucado has stepped in and done a "super job," according to coach Julie Marks. ... Ridgewood (7-5) dropped two of three matches last week, and coach Diane Breinig said poor passing is to blame. "That's where we're weakest right now," Breinig said. "If we can't get the ball to the setter, she can't set the hitters."

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