By PERRY PENTZ, TOM HAYDEN and JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000
VENICE -- Durant returns.
The second-ranked Cougars used their superior height advantage to edge third-ranked Stuart-Martin County 15-11, 15-11 to capture the Class 6A, Region 2 championship Saturday.
The win returns Durant (21-5) to the final four. Last year, the Cougars won the Class 5A state title, but now are finding success in 6A. "We know how sweet it is to make states and win it," Durant coach Teri Ohme said. "The kids remember that feeling and wanted to get back."
Ironically, it was Martin County (25-6) which dropped a 15-7, 15-13 match to Durant in the Class 5A state championship last season.
The match was tight and the only difference was the net play of 6-foot-2 junior Jenna Jordan and 6-0 sophomore Nicole LeBlanc.
Jordan finished with 12 kills, five digs and two blocks, while LeBlanc had 10 kills and four blocks.
In the first game, the teams were tied at 5-5 and 6-6 before Durant scored three consecutive points off Tiger unforced errors.
Martin County couldn't get its offense going against Durant's blocks and kills. Trailing 14-9 in the first game, the Tigers tried to come back by scoring two straight points, but a powerful spike by Jordan from the back line ended the game.
In the second game, Durant led early before Martin County started getting its offense going. Ahead 5-4, the Tigers scored five straight points off Erin Warren's serve to lead 10-4.
However, the Cougars decided to change their strategy.
"I told the girls to start tipping and serve short," Ohme said. "Our strategy was to change the pace of the game. It gave us back momentum and once we had it, I knew we would close it."
Ohme was right.
Durant scored three straight points off Katie Kilfoile's serve including two aces.
Later in the game, Durant took control when Christen Garcia served six consecutive points to take a 14-11 lead. In the scoring run, LeBlanc had two blocks and a kill while Jordan had the other kill.
In the semifinals, Durant cruised over Orlando University 15-9, 15-5, while Martin County defeated host Venice 15-10, 15-10.
FORT MYERS -- There will not be a fourth consecutive state title for Berkeley Prep.
The Buccaneers, one of the state powers in volleyball for most of the past two decades, lost to No. 1-ranked Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in a power-hitting Class 3A, Region 3 semifinal slugfest, 15-9, 14-16, 15-10, at Bishop Verot High School on Saturday.
Berkeley Prep, which won an appeal this week to have 16 wins restored when it was determined the school did not illegally recruit a player, had an 8-1 lead in the third set before Cardinal Mooney scored 14 of the next 16 points.
"It was our inability to pass the ball plain and simple," Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino said. "(After the 16-14 win in Game 2), I absolutely felt like we were going to win."
Hillsborough County's other representative in the regional semifinals, Academy of the Holy Names, lost to Fort Myers Bishop Verot in straight sets 15-7, 15-5.
The hitting of Cardinal Mooney's Cheryl Weldy and Megan Wallin was something Berkeley Prep couldn't stop as the two combined for 22 kills.
Berkeley Prep was led by Kayla Mora, who had nine kills, and Sarah Kirkwood, who had eight.
Berkeley Prep finished 20-11. It had won 11 of the past 16 state titles in various classes.
For AHN, (13-19), Lora Moncrief had nine kills in a match where its only leads were at 5-0 and 6-5 in the first game. -- TOM HAYDEN
SARASOTA -- Down 14-4 in the second game to Countryside, just a point from elimination in the Class 5A, Region 3 final match, just seconds away from the end of a successful season, Plant held on.
And held on.
And held on.
And held on.
The Panthers held onto the match for almost 10 minutes, refusing to concede the game-winning point, the match-winning point, to the Cougars for as long as they could. But an error at the net finally ended the Panthers' season.
Countryside, ranked No. 3 in the Class 5A poll, defeated No. 7 Plant 15-12, 15-4 in the 5A-3 regional final at Sarasota as the Cougars clinched a berth in the 5A final four, the first in school history.
It was a bewildering end to a playoff day that began in fine fashion for Plant, which earned a hard-fought 15-8, 15-12 win over No. 10 River Ridge (23-6) in the afternoon regional semifinal. The Panthers (25-5) dominated the first game then held off a furious rally from the Royal Knights.
But in the regional final that evening, Countryside (29-3) took charge from the start and kept the momentum rolling into the second game, scoring nine consecutive points to jump out to a 12-3 lead that Plant could not recover from.
"I think they clearly played better than us," Panthers coach Gary Larkin said. "They made far fewer errors through the course of the game and their serves were very effective. They just kept us off-balance and their serves were very effective, they just kept us off-balance tonight. I think we went up against a good team that really played error-free volleyball."
Plant was led by Claire Colbert's five kills, three blocks and two assists. Emily Kirkwood had 20 assists. Amy Rumore had five kills and two blocks.
Countryside won 15-10, 15-9 over No. 6 Sarasota (27-6) in the earlier regional semifinal. -- JAMAL THALJI
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