By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- By the time Thursday's Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship was over, the East Lake faithful still could have made it home to watch NBC's Must-See-TV programming lineup starting at 8 p.m.
The match started at 7, and it certainly wasn't must-see volleyball.
The Eagles required just more than half an hour to dispose of host Northeast 15-6, 15-9 to win the PCAC title for the first time. Aside from a few hugs and handshakes, East Lake hardly celebrated its ho-hum victory. Why bother when everybody played and nobody broke a sweat?
Eagles coach Terry Small said he envisioned a tougher match. Both schools earned the No. 1 seed in their respective districts, were the only county teams ranked in the state poll (East Lake is No. 8, Northeast No. 9 in Class 5A) and were aiming for their first conference title.
But Vikings coach Sean O'Flannery made good on his promise to start mostly reserves because he thinks the PCAC final is too close to the district tournament, which starts Tuesday. He wants the championship match to be moved toward the middle of the season.
O'Flannery has used similar tactics before. He used his backups two seasons ago when the PCAC was decided by a tournament format. Thursday's was the only match this season.
Still, Small said he thought he would see the real product on the court.
"Up until today I expected to see the ninth-ranked team in the state and thought I'd be playing a match that would make our team better," Small said.
Small used his starters before emptying his bench. Nicole Brittenriker had 10 kills as the Vikings went into duck-and-cover mode.
"We were a little flat early on," Brittenriker said. "Of course, that has to do with the intensity on the side of the net, too. But we're happy with the result and glad to be PCAC champs." As the East Lake players walked out of the gym, O'Flannery deflected criticism from fans and opponents. He declined comment afterward.
"If they didn't want to play, we would have gladly taken their place," said Lakewood's Tiffany Hanna, whose team lost to Northeast and finished as runner-up in the PCAC south division. "I came to see a good match."