JOHN C. COTEY
Clearwater sweeps into the region semifinals to face No. 1 Venice.
CLEARWATER - The thing about a team with one or two big hitters is rotation. No matter how good they are, at some point, they have to play in the back row, away from the net, unable to attack.
The thing about Clearwater is this: That doesn't matter.
There is not a single player the Tornadoes must rotate to the back row that weakens them. Seminole found that out the hard way Thursday night, as Clearwater sent wave after wave of attackers at the net to post an impressive 25-16, 25-13, 25-13 win in a Class 5A region quarterfinal.
Six players had kills, four had aces and the Tornadoes' defense never allowed the Warhawks to score more than three straight points.
"They have strong hitters and really good defense," said Seminole's Amanda McGowen, "and we just have the hitters. "
The Tornadoes (22-5) will travel Tuesday to meet Venice, ranked No. 1 in the state poll, in the semifinals. The two teams have met four times in the postseason since 1996, splitting the matches. Venice ended Clearwater's season last year and beat it again this season.
It probably won't be as easy as it looked against the Warhawks. Seminole (16-5) relied on McGowen and Ashley Martin for offense, but when those two were in the back row, the Warhawks had no other weapons.
"They have a bunch of girls that can bang balls," said Seminole coach Fran Freyer. "They have more hitters than we have. They have four power hitters; we have two. "
The Warhawks gave the No. 6 Tornadoes all they could handle in the first game, and trailed 14-13 after a Martin kill. But an Eileen Case kill and consecutive aces by Kelsey Salava keyed an 11-3 run to end it.
In the second game, Clearwater scored the last eight points - on kills by five different players.
"They can bring it," said McGowen, who combined with Martin for 12 of Seminole's 14 kills.
Case and Kristin Fisher led Clearwater with 11 kills, while Salava added eight and Sloane Baby had seven.