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WESLEY CHAPEL -- Trailing 8-5 on its home court in the third game of Tuesday's Class 3A, District 10 volleyball semifinal, defending champion Wesley Chapel was in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs when coach Julie Marks called for a timeout.
"I told them if they wanted their season to end, it was up to them," Marks said. "I knew they didn't want their season to end, but they had to do it themselves. All it takes is a good pass, a good set and a few kills and we're back in the match."
Wesley Chapel got the point in time to erase a 10-6 deficit, scoring the match's final nine points for a 15-5, 8-15, 15-10 victory over Bartow. The Wildcats advance to Thursday's championship against Pasco, which, like Wesley Chapel, clinched a return to the playoffs with a 15-6, 15-7 win against Mulberry.
Junior Lauren Valdez fueled the Wildcats' final rally with five kills in the final eight points.
"I just got excited," said Valdez, whose eight kills were second only to the nine recorded by senior Angela Medvid, who set Valdez in the last run.
The Wildcats (14-3) go for their third consecutive district title Thursday at 7 p.m. against Pasco, which broke out of a two-week slump in time to earn its second playoff berth in as many years.
Bartow (10-16) held its own against the district's best, but four hours earlier, the Blue Jackets barely defeated the district's lowest seed. They advanced to the semifinal with a 15-7, 15-17, 15-10 victory against Zephyrhills (1-19). The Bulldogs led 14-2 in the second match then allowed Bartow to rally for a 15-14 lead before scoring the game's final three points. The Blue Jackets pulled away in the final game to beat Zephyrhills for the third time this year.
The Pirates (11-13) had lost seven of eight matches entering Tuesday's semifinal, but the losses came against tough opponents such as River Ridge and Mitchell. First-year coach Ramiro Tejada said his team kept its focus on the district tournament throughout the struggles of the past two weeks.
"We played a lot better tonight than we have been," he said. "We tried to instill in the girls that we needed to peak at the right time, which is districts."
Pasco was led by freshman Ashley Naughton's five kills and committed only five passing errors after 16 miscues in its last match.
-- GREG AUMAN
BROOKSVILLE -- It wasn't for lack of familiarity, that's for sure. Central's seven seniors have been playing together for four years and, in some cases, longer.
Whatever the reason, the top-seeded Bears didn't communicate at the beginning of their semifinal against No. 4 seed Lecanto, and it nearly cost them their season.
Central blew a 14-9 lead in a 16-14 opening-game loss before charging back to win the final two games 15-2, 15-6 in a rematch of last season's district title match, which the Bears won.
"If we don't talk, we're not going to play right, so we learned to communicate in that second game," senior outside hitter Chivone Weyde said. "We knew we had good chemistry, and we had trust in one another."
Weyde's back-to-back kills ended the second game, and Julie Schneidmiller served the final six points of the third as Central (15-8) advanced to Thursday's 7 p.m. final against Clermont East Ridge (15-12). The Bears swept the Lady Knights this season.
For the third consecutive year, Central beat Lecanto in the district tournament, advanced to the title match and clinched a regional playoff berth. The Bears finished second two years ago before winning their first district title last season.
After claiming the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference crown last week, the Bears now have a chance to win conference and district titles in the same season for the first time.
All it took was a little communication.
"It was just a matter of saying, 'Calm down, relax, play your game,"' coach Jim Jensen said. "Nobody was upset, nobody was mad or anything like that. All we had to do was just relax and start communicating, start playing like we've been playing."
A Lecanto team with seven seniors ended the season 11-10.
"You can't make the errors that you're making at this point in the season, and we made more errors than they did," Lecanto coach Karen Dickson said.
East Ridge upset Leesburg 15-7, 10-15, 15-2 in the other semifinal.
-- FRANK PASTOR
BROOKSVILLE -- Third-seeded Crystal River is a win away from repeating after playing its way into the final with a 15-8, 15-9 victory against No. 2 Hernando. And, just like last season, the Pirates will face No. 1 Williston, a 15-13, 15-9 winner over No. 5 Citrus.
Crystal River coach Trudee Lightbody hopes for a repeat performance when the teams meet at 6 tonight.
"That same thing happened last year when we beat Hernando in the second round and Williston beat us twice in the regular season," Lightbody said. "We did it to them last year and hopefully can do it again this year."
Crystal River (14-7) was down 8-3 in the first game before staging a 12-point comeback that Lisandra Vazquez capped off with an ace. After breaking a 9-9 tie in the second game, the Pirates ended a six-point run with back-to-back aces by Colleen Bennett.
Vazquez had a match-high eight kills and four aces. Jennifer MacRae served up five aces and Alisa Tisdale and Shana Lockley each had four kills.
Hernando coach Dena Frye said her team was not playing to win.
"It was a tough loss, but the same thing happened last year when we came in all cocky," Frye said. "I told them to just think back to the rest of the season and keep their heads up."
Kara Bailey and Cristi Brown led Hernando (15-6) with five kills apiece, and Brown added two aces. Senior setter Kristi Langworthy capped off her career as a four-year starter by making all her serves this season.
In the other semifinal, Citrus (8-13) showed it could play with an athletic Williston squad, building leads in both games. Citrus had a 9-0 advantage in the first game and was up 5-1 in the second.
"Our offense really hurt us. We couldn't put the ball down," Citrus coach Pam Woznicki said. "Our defense was working hard, we just weren't hitting the holes."
-- KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
ORLANDO -- After making its 13th trip to Orlando this season, the top-seed Seven Rivers Christian got off to a slow start before beating No. 8 Orlando Christian Prep 15-13, 15-6.
Three of the first four servers missed, and Seven Rivers made eight hitting errors. The Warriors were down 12-9 in the first game before coach Scott Lyons called timeout, and junior Amy Cortese served them to game point.
Leading the offense was senior Danielle Albury with 11 kills, 14 assists and five blocks. Freshman Lacey Lyons contributed six kills and three blocks and seventh-grader Rachel Capra four kills.
In the second game, Seven Rivers jumped out to a 10-0 lead with sophomore Alice Zeiss behind the service line. Zeiss had five aces in the serving run.
Albury raised her season kill total to 408 after knocking down 12 kills to go with her eight assists. Lacey Lyons added four kills.
The Warriors play fifth-seeded Mount Dora Bible, a team they beat in two games earlier this season, in Thursday's semifinal.
-- KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER