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Preps

New Panthers seeking to make their own mark

Both Kirkwoods are gone, but Plant is district champ and still looking for more.

By SCOTT PURKS
Published October 22, 2004

TAMPA - They are 18-5 with a victory earlier this season over defending Class 2A state champion Berkeley Prep, and, after Thursday night, they have collected the Class 5A, District 8 tournament championship with ease.

And yet the Plant Panthers still want respect.

"There is no (2003 Plant graduate and Florida player of the year) Sarah Kirkwood on this team," coach Leanna Taylor said after defeating Brandon 25-10, 25-5, 25-7 in Thursday's final. "We started a freshman and three sophomores tonight. I mean this year has been a learning experience every day.

"Every day after we play we've had to go back and work on four or five things. But we're getting there. We're getting better all the time."

So much better that Taylor said anything less than a state final-four spot, "Would be considered a disappointment."

High expectations were set the past three years as Plant won three state titles, all with Kirkwood, who now starts for the University of Virginia with her sister Emily, who won two titles with her sister.

This year's leader is senior Lauren Taylor, who has taken over much of Kirkwood's hitting duties and who has the pleasure of getting set by freshman Kellie Catanach, daughter of University of Tampa coach Chris Catanach.

"Kellie definitely is an experienced freshman who brings a lot of skill to us," Taylor said. "But the thing is, we're all working hard and all trying to get better. Like I said, we still feel like we have something to prove."

In Thursday's final it was never close, as Plant jumped to a 15-5 lead in the first game and cruised the rest of the way. The match barely lasted 40 minutes.

Plant will host next week's first round of regionals, while Brandon must travel.

5A-7: Gryphons upset Cowboys for title

TAMPA - Sickles pulled off its second upset in as many nights, defeating Gaither 25-23, 25-23, 25-17 to take the Class 5A, District 7 title.

Gaither entered the match against Sickles with confidence.

The Cowboys had swept the regular-season meetings against the Gryphons 2-0 and had a record of 17-3 in the regular season.

Gaither had the experience, having seven returning players from the team that made the quarterfinals last year.

The Cowboys looked to take the third, and most important, game of the year and claim the district title.

Sickles had other plans.

After upsetting tournament host Alonso in the semifinals, the Gryphons thought they could play with anyone. Sickles matched Gaither point for point in the first match and won because of a Gaither service error.

The Gryphons had to come from behind in Game 2 and managed to hold off a late Gaither run.

In Game 3, the Cowboys came out flat and Sickles took advantage.

Outside hitter Ann Greenwood, who had a team-high 11 kills, led the Gryphons.

Gaither couldn't seem to find any rhythm against Sickles and seemed to lose momentum after winning decisive points.

"We hustled and played with heart," coach Rob Brashear said. "We played really well at the net and took away some of their big hitters."

- MARK LENNOX, Times correspondent

[Last modified October 22, 2004, 01:09:27]


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