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By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
HUDSON -- For Halloween, the Hudson Cobras came ... as the No. 1 team in Class 4A.
They and the opposition were just about the only ones not in costume at Tuesday night's Class 4A, Region 2 quarterfinal which Hudson handily won 15-3, 15-8 over Lake Gibson.
"We were very fluid," Cobras coach Linda McQuade said. "We were playing together."
The Cobras (23-4) were led again by Alison Baker's fine all-around play. She led the team with seven kills, was 7-of-7 on passing and 6-of-7 on blocks.
Nikki Prack was 7-of-9 on blocks, 6-of-6 on passing and had two kills. Kathleen Cook connected on 7 of 9 passes, and Kelly Qualtiere was 5-of-7.
"This is the way we would like to always play," Baker said, "and from now on we always need to come out and play like this for every game."
Afterward, the home team and its slavishly-devoted fans, the "Cobra Crazies," engaged in their ritual post-game dance as the players got down with Batman, Batman Beyond, Superman, Darth Maul, Master P and a guy with a toilet seat around his neck.
Some coaches find Hudson's home-field advantage annoying, but not Lake Gibson coach Jeff Karns.
"This is what it's supposed to be like," he said. "(McQuade) does it right here. It gets the kids excited. Look, the kids are over there, they're still having a good time and it has been over 10 minutes (since the match ended)."
Hudson takes on Clay at 2 p.m. Saturday at Auburndale in the 4A-2 regional semifinals. Auburndale meets Gainesville Eastside at 4 p.m. The winners meet in the 7 p.m. regional semifinal.
BROOKSVILLE -- For the second consecutive season, Hernando saw an impressive regular season spoiled by a first-round regional playoff loss on its home court.
This year's reality check was Gainesville Eastside, which used strong serving and crafty angular hitting to hand the Leopards a 15-12, 15-12 loss at Imhoff Gymnasium.
"It's hard knowing I'm not ever going to play another game in this gym," said senior Chrissy Hartley, who had a team-high seven kills in her final match. "I wish we could have ended it with a win. Either way, win or lose, it would have been my last match here, but it would have been a lot easier to take if we had won."
Hernando (19-2) dominated local competition this year but had little experience with state-ranked teams, splitting two matches with a ranked Lecanto team that missed the playoffs. Representing the other extreme, Eastside (19-12) took its lumps with a tough schedule loaded with tournaments and playoff-caliber opponents, and coach Perry McDonald said that experience helped his team Tuesday.
"We played a lot of really tough competition, and we've taken it on the chin quite a few times, as our record shows," McDonald said. "But by facing really strong competition, I think we were used to playing on this level."
Hernando's lone lead came at 5-4 in the first game, but Eastside stayed in control, even when the Leopards rallied to tie on several occasions. The Rams had 14 kills from senior Erin Whitten, and won 12 points on the steady serve of setter Jen Swait, who set Eastside's hitters for cross-court and sideline kills. Hernando was often able to get a hand on kills at the net, but many were blocked out of bounds.
"Were they a better team than us? I don't think so. I really don't," Hernando coach Dena Frye said. "We just weren't playing our game tonight. There's something about making it to this level, we just can't get past it."
Hernando wasn't looking ahead, but Hartley was distracted by a potential conflict she would face if the Leopards had won. Her father Rick is getting married Saturday, and Frye put the senior on the bench briefly in the second game.
"It's the first time all year I've had to take her out of a game," Frye said. "When she came back in, she was very aggressive."
Eastside advances to Saturday's regional semifinal in Auburndale, where the Rams will face the home team.
Central saw its season end abruptly with a 15-7, 15-0 loss at the hands of Green Cove Springs Clay, which stepped into the state spotlight with its first state ranking this week.
"The girls have been saying that this is a time when people are starting to find out who we are," said Clay coach Angela Booth of her 25-6 team, ranked eighth among Class 4A schools.
Central (14-14), whose only other brush with the state playoffs was a first-round loss in 1996, kept close early, but Clay picked its play up a notch in the second game.
"We started out a little slow," Booth said. "Our players were not taking it seriously as they needed to, and the second game was more of what I expect from them."
Clay will face top-ranked Hudson in a regional semifinal Saturday in Auburndale.
- Times staff