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    Bounce of victory follows players

    Clearwater High School begins the week bragging that its girls' volleyball team is best in the state.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Clearwater High volleyball players, from left, Kelsey Baby, 16, Emily McDaniel, 18, back left, Katy Barber, 18, and Kara Betourne, 17, back right, watch Melanie Custer, 17, sign a volleyball Monday that will be placed in the school's trophy display.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


    Clearwater High School girls' volleyball team will never forget the last few seconds of their championship game.

    They served the ball to the team from Hudson High School, which quickly sent it back across the net. Clearwater, winning 14-6, easily kept the ball alive. A player set it, and another spiked it. Hudson scrambled to save the play, but the ball slid off a player's arms and headed out of bounds.

    "Before she reached for it, I knew," said Emily McDaniel, who spiked the ball and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. "We were all in the air."

    So is Clearwater High these days.

    This is the second time in four years the girls' volleyball team has won the state 4A championship. In just 45 minutes Saturday, the Tornadoes put away Hudson in two games, 15-12 and 15-6, and finished the season 32-3.

    Monday marked the first day of a year's worth of bragging.

    A banner in the cafeteria declared what principal Nick Grasso had already told students in the morning announcements: Clearwater is best in the state.

    "We just outplayed them," said Kara Betourne, a setter on the team.

    She and other players signed the ball that helped them win it all and wore their gold medals over T-shirts their parents had printed for them.

    It was their way of letting people know the players of a sport overshadowed by football and basketball are just as awesome.

    Very few of the other students saw that winning play at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando. Unlike their counterparts in football and basketball, volleyball players have to ask students to come to their games and often entice them with candy.

    It's a reality the players are willing to deal with as long as they win.

    "It's nice to have fans, but you get used to it," Betourne said.

    Clearwater isn't in any hurry to get used to its latest accomplishment. State championships buoy schools and bring students closer together, Grasso said. The students respect the players who bring state recognition to the school, which, in turn, instills pride in the student body.

    Or as Brian Labus, a senior, put it: "It puts in another bid for the best in the state, not just in volleyball, not just in athletics, but in everything."

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