© St. Petersburg Times, published November 10, 2002
TRINITY -- One after the other, Mitchell and River Ridge players looked across the net Saturday and saw the kind of team they aspire to be. Unfortunately for both, they can't be Gainesville until they can beat Gainesville.
The Purple Hurricanes had little trouble eliminating the Mustangs and Royal Knights, beating Mitchell 15-4, 15-6 in the semifinals, then advancing to their sixth consecutive state tournament with a 15-7, 15-7 victory over River Ridge in the final.
"They're a strong team, and we put up a fight, but there's not much you can do when a girl's pounding the ball around the 10-foot line," senior Mandi Petrella said. "They've got some awesome players, and we played as hard as we could.
"It's not the greatest feeling, but it's better going out against a team like Gainesville."
No. 3-ranked Gainesville (28-4), which eliminated the Knights in last year's region semifinals, got strong showings from 6-footers Hayley Williams and Kelsey Bowers. Williams had 12 kills against Mitchell and 10 against No. 9 River Ridge, while Bowers had nine against the Knights.
Gainesville coach Cindy Boulware said the key was containing River Ridge's Dawn Conner.
"We felt we had more offensive power, but our concern was could we handle Dawn Conner," Boulware said. "She had a lot of kills against Middleburg and her jump serve was more than adequate. She never got into a good run against us."
Conner had 10 kills and a run of four aces in the Knights' 15-8, 7-15, 15-10 semifinal win over Middleburg (17-15), but had only four kills and one ace in her final high school match.
River Ridge (25-3) finished its season with the best record in school history and made its deepest playoff run since reaching the state semifinals in 1996.
"I don't mind losing to a strong team," Knights coach Heidi Castelamare said. "With the size they have, you can't do much to get around that."
Mitchell (23-7) got 10 kills from junior Katelen Dixon in its semifinal loss to Gainesville, but the Mustangs, like River Ridge, have the consolation of losing only two seniors from their regular rotation of players.
"You always want to go out with a hard fight, to get that good feeling, but we told the girls it's quite an accomplishment to be where they're at," Mitchell coach Joe Dixon said.