BROOKSVILLE - In the third meeting between the teams this season, Hernando finally proved it could handle Weeki Wachee.
The Lady Leopards hosted the rising Lady Hornets Wednesday night in a battle for first place in Class 5A, District 7.
After dropping the first game, Hernando survived the next three grueling sets to pull out a critical victory, 24-26, 25-23, 25-21, 25-22.
"They just wanted it," Hernando head coach Robin Bailey said. "They came together, especially after last weekend when we had an injury and a bad weekend. They just really put their minds to it. We had a great crowd behind us. This was huge."
The rough weekend occurred in the Fivay Volleyball Classic, in which the Lady Leopards (12-5 overall, 9-1 5A-7) went 1-3 including a loss to the Lady Hornets (12-7 overall, 9-2 5A-7) on Saturday, 25-18, 25-21.
They also lost Kaitlyn Jones to a knee injury, possibly a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
That Saturday match didn't count toward the district standings, but the one at Weeki Wachee on Sept. 10 did. The Lady Hornets won, 21-25, 25-15, 27-25, 25-18.
The difference this time, according to Bailey, was the energy.
"The first match is when we found out we had to bench Tana (McDaniel due to injury) right before the game," said Bailey, referring to her senior outside hitter. "And they just fell apart. Now there are more people stepping up to be leaders."
Leadership and composure were needed to survive four tumultuous games in which no lead seemed safe.
Down 9-5 early in the first, Weeki Wachee would eventually rally for a 19-11 advantage, scoring 11 unanswered points with Alyssa Cupeles at serve.
Yet Hernando came back with a 12-2 flurry, taking a 23-21 lead before the Lady Hornets battled back once more, ending the game on a kill by Chreslyn Serama.
In the second game, the Lady Leopards opened up as much as a 17-11 edge on an ace by Haley Jensen.
Then Weeki Wachee reeled off six points in a row, five as Shannan Evers served, briefly tying the score at 17.
The Lady Hornets eventually went in front 22-20, but couldn't close out matters. McDaniel delivered a game-winning kill of her own to officially even the match.
Weeki Wachee held a 19-14 lead in the third, only to allow Hernando to score 11 of the final 13 points.
Five of those came off the serve of sophomore Grace Curren, called up from junior varsity before the match. She had three aces on the night and drew praise from Bailey.
After falling behind 15-12, the Lady Hornets were up 20-16 in the fourth. Again, the Lady Leopards dominated down the stretch, notching nine of the last 11 points.
"We met after school today and that was really our main focus, was no matter what stay up," Bailey said. "We know when we start going down, forget it, we're out."
Freshman Ali Bronson served the final points of the last two games, including an ace that capped the third. She also paced Hernando with 12 kills.
"It's probably our most frustrating team out there because we knew we were capable of beating them, but we just never pushed for it," Bronson said. "We seemed like we were never together when we actually played them. To finally come through after playing them three times, it's the greatest feeling ever.
"We pushed together and we came together, cause we usually fall apart. Tana, one of our captains, and coach, they just told us that if we want to win we had to come together."
Serama posted a match-high 18 kills and Cupeles added 27 assists.
"They played their hearts out," Weeki Wachee head coach Kelly Werkmeister said. "There were some points Hernando played better. They played their hearts out, too. It was a great match between both teams. It was just a fight to the end, it was a battle, and the same in districts is what we're going to do. I just wish them all good luck through the rest of the season.
"We're still going to move forward, just get rid of some of the mistakes. Don't let ourselves get down on it, keep a positive attitude and we'll go from there."
Hernando 3, Weeki Wachee 1
1 2 3 4
WW 26 23 21 22
HER 24 25 25 25
Records - Weeki Wachee (12-7 overall, 9-2 5A-7), Hernando (12-5 overall, 9-1 5A-7).