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Confidence earns Panthers berth in semis


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000

TAMPA -- There were times when the Plant Panthers were out of synch, but they never seemed to doubt themselves during Tuesday's quarterfinal victory -- 15-5, 15-13 over Port Charlotte.

The first game was a relative breeze, but in the second, Plant trailed 9-3 and 12-8, partly because of streaks of poor passing.

By the second game's end, however, setter Emily Kirkwood and hitters Claire Colbert and Jessica Smith found their rhythm.

"I was proud of the way our kids handled themselves," Plant coach Gary Larkin said. "They stayed focused and kept playing hard even when things weren't going just right.

"I was more worried about this match than any of the others because it was Halloween and all the girls' friends were in the stands (many in costumes). But now we got this out of the way and we can go on the road. And we like going on the road."

Plant (24-4 and ranked No. 8) moves on to the Region 3 semis Saturday at Sarasota High. The Panthers will play River Ridge (22-5) at 2 p.m. A victory in that match will put them in Saturday's 7 p.m. final.

No. 3-ranked Countryside and No. 7 Sarasota will play in the 4 p.m. semifinal.

"I like our chances," Larkin said. "I think if when we get everything working together, we can be very effective. We can play some pretty good defense."

5A-3: Wharton ousted

Sarasota jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the deciding game and went on to defeat Wharton 15-8, 8-15, 15-4.

The Wildcats got as close as 13-4 in the third game before the Sailors closed out the match.

Candice Dupree and Nicole Weeden played well for Wharton, but they weren't enough.

"They got the momentum in the second game because we let (Dupree) kind of dominate," Sarasota coach Gary Halbert said.

"She was hitting from the back row. She was hitting from the front row. And we didn't play any defense in the second game."

- Times staff

6A-2: Durant moves on

DURANT -- In Game 2 of the regional quarterfinal between Durant (26-4) and Sarasota Riverview (24-7) with the score tied at 8, sophomore outside hitter Danielle Herndon stepped to the line and served out the win with seven consecutive points. She served no aces, but she had help.

Just prior to Herndon's serve, the service changed sides four times. Both teams played strong defense and kept the ball in play for long periods of time.

However, after the final seven points served by Herndon, the defending 5A state champions from Durant put a 15-11, 15-8 victory in the books and began to focus on the regional semifinals and final set for Saturday at Venice. Durant will play Orlando University. One winner from that four-team bracket will move on the the final four and a shot at the state title.

In the first game, the Rams jumped out to a 7-2 lead and appeared to have Durant under control. At that point, Cougars coach Teri Ohme called timeout and settled her players down.

"I think our youth came out in the beginning of the match, and they just needed to settle down and play the way they are capable of playing," Ohme said. "They are young, but I will go with these kids any time. Once our middle got on line, Sarasota Riverview was unable to stop us. Jenna (Jordan, a junior) and Nicole (LeBlanc, a sophomore) are our middle."

Jordan had 10 kills and four blocks in the match while LeBlanc added 14 kills and five blocks.

"Sarasota covered better than any team I have seen this year," Ohme said. "But when our middle got together, they were unstoppable."

- Terry Jones

6A-2: Sickles' season ends

Sickles traveled to play a team with just as many losses (11) but 10 more wins with 18. The result was one more loss for the Gryphons and a season-ending trip home as Venice advanced to the region semifinals 15-12, 15-4.

Sickles, which finished runner-up in its district, ended the season at 9-11.

- Times Staff

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