WEEKI WACHEE - It took Hernando three ties to defeat Weeki Wachee this season.
In the fourth meeting between the two county rivals, Thursday's Class 5A, District 7 Tournament final in the Lady Hornets' gym, the Lady Leopards got the win that mattered.
Top-seeded Hernando rebounded from a first-game-loss to defeat second-seeded Weeki Wachee in four, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-19.
In doing so, the Lady Leopards (17-5) laid claim to their first district title since 2004.
"It feels great. That feels wonderful," said first-year Hernando head coach Robin Bailey said. "It's huge, for all that work you put into it."
This match continued an odd trend within all three five-game matches of this season series: the team that won the first set dropped the next three.
That opening stanza literally seemed to go point-for-point until Miranda Werkmeister served five straight points to give Weeki Wachee (16-10) a 22-18 lead.
At that point a technical glitch with the scoreboard caused a small delay, and seemed to derail the Lady Hornets' momentum.
Hernando quickly fired back and took a 23-22 advantage on a block by Tana McDaniel. Chreslyn Serama followed with a kill, then an ace and one more service point to give Weeki Wachee the win.
During the second game, Hernando bounced back to go up 18-10 when Rebecca Laing served four points in a row.
The Lady Hornets crawled back within three, 23-20, but the Lady Leopards regained possession and McDaniel put it away with a kill.
Again in the fourth, Weeki Wachee founds itself down big late, 23-11, on back-to-back aces by Ryleigh D'Ambrosio.
One more, the Lady Hornets cut into the deficit, pulling to 24-20, yet couldn't finish off a comeback.
With Haley Jensen at serve in the fourth, Hernando reeled off 16 unanswered points, building a 17-2 edge. Jensen had four aces during that service turn.
Weeki Wachee made another late surge to avoid a blowout only to fall short, thematic of its night.
"It was just the consistency, missing serves and they just got down on themselves," Weeki Wachee head coach Kelly Werkmeister said. "It was the nerves that set in on them. They just got scared.
"And they just need to understand they've still got to have faith in themselves, shake off the bad pass and get to the next point, and that's what they've got to do. That's what we'll focus on Monday and be ready for Tuesday."
Serama posted a match-high 16 kills and four blocks, adding three aces. Miranda Werkmeister chipped in 10 kills and Alyssa Cupeles 23 assists.
Despite the loss, the third-year Lady Hornets will make their first-ever regional appearance, traveling to take on 5A-8 champ Fivay Tuesday at 7 p.m. At the same time Hernando will host 5A-8 runner-up Anclote.
On this night the Lady Leopards didn't have any statistical standouts, signifying the team effort.
"It's exciting because we've never really made it far," said the senior captain McDaniel, who had five kills and three blocks. "Everyone is playing together. No one's fighting. We don't have any drama. Everyone wants to play for the person beside them."
Hernando 3, Weeki Wachee 1
1 2 3 4
WW 25 20 20 19
HER 23 25 25 25
Records - Hernando (17-5), Weeki Wachee (16-10).
Class 5A, District 7 Tournament
At Weeki Wachee
10-21No. 4 Central vs. No. 5 Nature Coast
Nature Coast def. Central, 31-29, 25-14, 25-22
No. 3 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 6 Zephyrhills
Wesley Chapel def. Zephyrhills, 25-16, 27-25, 25-18
No. 2 Weeki Wachee vs. No. 7 Pasco
Weeki Wachee def. Pasco, 25-19, 25-18, 25-16
10-22No. 1 Hernando vs. Nature Coast
Hernando def. Nature Coast, 25-23, 27-25, 25-27, 12-25, 15-11
No. 2 Weeki Wachee vs. No. 3 Wesley Chapel
Weeki Wachee def. Wesley Chapel, 18-25, 25-15, 25-18, 26-24
Hernando vs. Weeki Wachee
Hernando def. Weeki Wachee, 23-25, 25-20, 25-20, 25-19