This time Panthers vanquish Venice

Published October 29, 2006

VENICE - The warmup shirts worn by Plant players Saturday bore a simple message: "Unfinished Business."

The T-shirts, made by freshman Melissa Bennett, reminded the Panthers of the past two seasons, when they were bounced from the playoffs by perennial power Venice.

The Panthers, the top-ranked team in Class 5A, took Bennett's message to heart, using superb play at the net, powerful hitting from three positions and tight defense to defeat the third-ranked Indians 25-16, 25-19, 25-21.

"That was definitely a motivating factor," said Plant senior middle hitter Christine Williamson, a University of Miami recruit who consistently pounded winners for a game-high 14 kills. "There was no way they were going to beat us again."

Plant (25-2) took control early, using a string of seven consecutive points, including two Williamson kills, to open a 16-9 lead. Venice closed to 19-13, but middle hitter Kaley Read keyed a 6-3 close with a kill and game-winning block on Ashley Graf.

In the second game, Plant broke open a 12-11 game with an 8-0 run that included a block from junior Dani Erb, two kills each from Williamson and Read and two Read ace serves that made it 20-12. In the third game, blocks from Williamson and Erb sparked a 6-0 run that gave Plant a 12-7 lead. Venice (25-5) closed to 18-16, but four crucial errors down the stretch enabled the Panthers to pull away. Ali McCurdy's ace put the finishing touches on the win.

"We're a more mature team this year," Plant coach Leanna Taylor said. "After that loss (last year), we all grew up, including me as a coach."

Bulls rally, advance

VALRICO - With all the mistakes Bloomingdale made in the first three games against Lakeland Lake Gibson, the Bulls seemed ready to concede.

But with the Braves leading 2-1, Bloomingdale slowly started coming back to win 25-21, 15-25, 13-25, 25-18, 18-16.

Bloomingdale made 24 unforced errors, including nine service errors in the first three games. Then the Bulls began to get steady, support each other and make impossible digs.

Between the third and fourth games, Bulls coach Bonnie Hess said she talked primarily to her four seniors. "I asked them if they wanted to end their career like this," she said.

Those four seniors responded: were Addison Ritchie (17 kills, 19 digs), Ally Gray (18 digs, 15 assists, four kills), Raquel Casto (19 assists, 26 digs, five kills, two blocks) and Breanne Branting (26 digs, five kills).

With the Bulls up 17-16 in the short game, Caitlin Barsumian made the scoring block to put the victory in the books.