Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
Hernando Christian

Volleyball

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:38 PM

Over the years, Hernando County has built a respectable volleyball reputation.

From Hernando High reaching back-to-back Final Fours in the mid-1980s to Nature Coast advancing to the Elite Eight the past three years, postseason success has been plentiful.

Just last season, both Nature Coast and Springstead claimed district titles, with the Lady Eagles reaching the Sweet 16 to nearly match the Lady Sharks.

A year earlier, Hernando joined those two squads in regionals, falling to Nature Coast in the semifinal round.

Go back to 2009, and it was Central along with the Lady Sharks making it out of districts.

Not since 1998 has the county failed to have a team advance into regionals, a streak very much in jeopardy when district tournaments take place next week.

Six county clubs are spread across four tournaments, and for any of those teams to reach a championship match, it would take what would be considered an upset.

For much of the season, Springstead appeared to have the most realistic shot of making some postseason noise.

The Lady Eagles (10-8) performed a rare feat in their history by collecting a county championship, nearly sweeping Central, Hernando, Nature Coast and Weeki Wachee.

But they went down to the Lady Leopards in five games on Oct. 10, the conclusion of a three-match losing skid to close their regular-season slate.

"We've been distracted by school and whatnot, but I think we're zoned in and ready to go," Springstead head coach Noemi Rivera said. "Communication hasn't been up to par.

"I think (the break between the regular season and districts) gives them a breather. I think they were a little tired between school and practices and games. I think it's a good, refreshing break for them."

Former Lady Eagle player and assistant coach Brooke Seaman has been working with the team recently, a change of pace Rivera said has given her girls renewed focus.

Defending champ Springstead enters the Class 6A, District 6 Tournament at Lecanto as the third seed, facing the host and second-seeded Lady Panthers, Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The winner would clinch a regional berth and a spot in Thursday's 7 p.m. final, though to pull that off the Lady Eagles would have to buck a seriously trend.

Thanks to two additional matches in the Fivay High School Classic Volleyball Tournament, Springstead has already faced Lecanto four times.

Unfortunately for the Lady Eagles, the outcome hasn't changed. They're 0-4 in those matchups, mostly recently a 25-17, 25-20, 25-18 sweep by the Lady Panthers on Oct. 9.

"We played OK to start out with, but we can't finish the whole match," Rivera said. "They're a very aggressive serving team and very scrappy.

"We just need to stay focused and talk to each other and trust each other. I think we'll be good if we do that."

Springstead isn't the only local crew facing an uphill battle in the five-team 6A-6 event.

Central (8-12) is the fifth seed facing fourth-seeded Citrus, who will host what is essentially a play-in match in Inverness Monday at 7 p.m.

The winner moves on to a semifinal versus top seed Ocala-West Port at Lecanto, Wednesday at 5 p.m.

"There have been some real strong points and also we've fallen off the side of a cliff," Central head coach Anthony DiSciascio said. "We're consistently inconsistent."

The Lady Bears split two meetings with the Lady Hurricanes this year, sweeping them, 25-14, 25-18, 25-19, on Sept. 27.

That represents Central's only district victory in eight tries, but DiSciascio remains confident that the Lady Bears are not an easy out.

"Any of the four teams in it (after Monday) are capable of winning everything," DiSciascio said. "We've gone toe-to-toe with West Port. We lost in five games to Lecanto.

"Whichever team makes the least amount of mistakes is going home as district champ."

Monday will pit two county foes against one another in first round of the 5A-7 Tournament.

Fifth-seeded Nature Coast (4-21) travels to fourth-seeded Hernando (11-9) for a 6:30 p.m. match.

Whoever survives takes on top seed Crystal River at Eustis High, Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Another semifinal follows at 7 p.m., featuring second seed Eustis against the winner of Monday's match between third seed Tavares and sixth seed Dunnellon.

The championship match is Thursday at 7 p.m., also at Eustis.

The Lady Leopards swept the season series with the Lady Sharks, first in five games and then in four.

Hernando additionally has momentum, having won 8-of-10 matches to close out the regular season.

"We're definitely playing better," Hernando head coach Patti Martin said. "We're playing a little closer to where I think their ability is. I just think we can play so much better. There are just a lot of internal things going, so we hope to work through that.

"We're covering better and our serves are more consistent. We're doing a better job of placing them where we want them to go."

Problem for the Lady Leopards is, for a variety of reasons they've never had all their players on the same page.

"My expectation is if all our girls come out and play the way I know they can play, we should take the district without any doubt," Martin said. "We should be going to regionals."

Meanwhile, the Lady Sharks are in a very unusual position. They've won four district titles in five years and made regionals eight seasons in a row.

But their current record suggests they won't add to those totals this time around.

"Hernando seems to be peaking at this moment," Nature Coast head coach Emily Gore said. "We know we can compete with Hernando. We just have to find a way to compete at a high level from start to finish. We haven't done that.

"We're young in the aspect that we didn't have a lot of experience coming back from varsity. But this deep into the season, you can't use that as an excuse. With our girls, it comes down to their mentality."

Gore does believe the Lady Sharks have improved their serving and communication. Nevertheless, they haven't beaten anyone in the district outside of Dunnellon.

That includes Crystal River, who also bested Hernando twice. So either way, Monday's victor has a heavy task ahead.

"I think we're all evenly matched, for the most part," Martin said. "Truthfully, I think the district could go either way."

Hernando Christian Academy (12-11) travels to Citrus Park Christian Monday for a match against Tampa Bay Christian at 5:30 p.m.

That will represent the 4-5 clash in the 2A-8 Tournament, with the Lady Lions being the higher seed.

HCA downed Tampa Bay Christian twice this season, each time in three games. The winner of this third meeting faces top seed Tampa-Cambridge Christian Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Twice the Lady Lions went up against Cambridge Christian, dropping both tilts in three.

"We've improved a few things we need to work on still," HCA head coach Stacy Hethorn said. "We're a young team, but I'm feeling pretty good.

"I expect us to advance to the second round at least, and I'd like to give Cambridge a good run for their money."

Weeki Wachee (2-20) is part of the 4A-6 Tournament at Ocala-Trinity Catholic. The Lady Hornets are seeded fifth in the five-team event, and will play fourth-seeded South Sumter Monday at 6 p.m.

On Oct. 4, Weeki Wachee defeated South Sumter, 25-22, 25-22, 27-25, for its only on-court win this year. The other came via forfeit.

The Lady Hornets dropped a match to South Sumter back in August, and lost a coin flip for the higher seed. Monday's winner faces top-seeded Trinity Catholic on Tuesday.


cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5288

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