© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002
TAMPA -- All week, Plant heard through the grapevine that Boca Raton Olympic Heights was ready to face the Panthers a second time. And beat them again, of course.
Rumor had it that the only Florida team that could beat the Lions, ranked 13th in the nation by Student Sports, was Olympic Heights itself. And it was a fine argument.
"They can definitely back up the talk," Plant outside hitter Sarah Kirkwood said. "They're very confident. And they deserve to be confident."
On Saturday, though, the Panthers made some counterpoints. Several, in fact.
Plant beat Olympic Heights 15-10, 15-10 in the Tampa Bay Invitational championship match, giving the Lions (22-1) their first loss of the season one week after the Lions gave Plant (25-1) its only loss in the Berkeley Premier Invitational title match.
Though the win was dragged out by 45 Olympic Heights sideouts, the Panthers looked convincing as middle blockers Lauren Taylor and Claire Crumpton were active throughout the match. Plant's smallest players -- Amy Rumore, Taylor Russo and Jessica Smith -- added some imposing kills and digs, and leading hitter Sarah Kirkwood and setter Emily Kirkwood were strong as usual.
"Everybody played great, and that's what you need to beat them," Emily Kirkwood said. "This is probably the toughest match we'll play all season."
The Panthers, ranked No. 21 in the nation and No. 1 in 4A, still seemed helpless against certain Olympic Heights trademarks, such as hammer-swing kills by outside hitter Summer Weissing. They also showed some weakness in serving (seven service errors).
In the semifinals, Durant also had a good showing against the Lions, stretching out the 15-4, 12-15, 15-9 loss. The Cougars (14-7) finished fourth, falling to third-place Berkeley Prep in a long three-game battle (15-11, 5-15, 15-13).
In one of the tournament's most competitive matches, Tampa Prep (ranked third in 2A) beat Gainesville P.K. Yonge (second in 2A) 15-9, 4-15, 18-16. The Terrapins (16-9) ended up falling to Mobile (Ala.) McGill Toolen in their final match, which put them in sixth place.
Sickles, with its leading hitter out of town and two others injured, could not win a match in its pool or bracket and ended up in 16th place.
Sarah and Emily Kirkwood of Plant, Cally Stolbach and Eden Ramos of Berkeley Prep, Danielle Herndon and Nicole LeBlanc of Durant and Jess Thomas of Tampa Prep were named to the all-tournament first team.
Plant's Smith, Berkeley Prep's Janet Okogbaa, Durant's Christen Garcia and Tampa Prep's Kelly Phillips were named to the second team.