A spirited comeback came up short on Wednesday night, as the Harmony Longhorns dropped a Class 6A, Region 3 quarterfinal match to the Winter Haven Blue Devils, 25-22, 25-22, 23-25, 26-24.
The Longhorns were one of four teams from Osceola County to advance to regional play. But only Gateway, a 25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 25-19 winner over Fivay in Class 5A will advance to the Regional Semifinals. Osceola High lost to top-seeded Steinbrenner and Tohopekaliga lost a heart-breaking five-set decision to Lake Nona.
“It was a tough loss, but we certainly showed our resilience tonight,” Longhorn head coach Travis Foster said. “It would have been really easy for this team to simply quit when we went down two sets to zero. But we fought back and took the third set and rallied from way down in the fourth. Obviously we would have liked to advance a little further for our senior class, but I was really proud of our effort and I think we displayed a lot of character tonight.”
Starting off slowly, Harmony trailed 5-1 in the first game and trailed by about the same margin for most of the set. But Rylee Tanner spurred a run with several big kills as the Longhorns fought back to close the gap to 19-18. But several return errors and two big spikes each by Victoria Hurles and Carissa Michel gave Winter Haven the first set.
Looking to even the match, Longhorns jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 14-6 in the second set. But behind the stellar play of Luci Lippelgoos (4 kills, 2 blocks in game) the Blue Devils fought back and eventually took a 22-21 lead. With the score tied 22-22, Lippelgoos would get a kill, a Harmony return would sail long, and a kill attempt at the net came up short – as Winter Haven finished on a 3-0 run to take game two, 25-22.
Game three would go back and forth with neither team gaining more than a two-point advantage. With score tied at 23-23, Alanys Rodriguez found an open spot on a soft touch over the net and Drea Thompson followed with a deep spike as Harmony took the set, 25-23.
Winter Haven would jump out to a 17-11 lead in the Game 4. Harmony would go on an 11-1 run however, to forge a 22-18 advantage. But the Blue Devils rallied to tie the set at 24-24. From there, senior middle blocker Brandy Gilberry tapped a soft shot over the Harmony blockers and on the ensuing point, a Longhorns’ ball-handling error saw the ball hit the ground for match point, 26-24.
Despite the loss, Foster remained upbeat about his program and its direction. “This team won a district championship and came together to play some really inspired volleyball in the last two weeks. We lose four seniors, but we return 11 underclassmen and we had 22 players between junior varsity and our freshman teams. We have been rebuilding the last two seasons and I like the direction the program is going.”
In other action involving county schools, Gateway (12-9) followed up its Class 5A, District 8 championship last week with a four-set win over Fivay, 25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 25-19, in a Region 2 Quarterfinal. The win sends the Lady Panthers into the Region 2 Semifinals, where they will play at second-seeded Vangard (11=17) next Wednesday.
Osceola, which had preseason hopes of a deep playoff run, saw its year come to an end with a three-set loss at Streinbrenner High School (25-20, 25-23, 25-19) in a Class 7A Region 2 quarterfinal. The Kowboys finished with a 20-8 record. “We had a really tough draw and ended up facing a loaded team in Steinbrenner. I thought we competed well throughout the match with some long rallies and top-level volleyball, but came up short,” Kowboys head coach Carrie Palmi said. “We played in two high-level tournaments in the regular season and we want some matches against some outstanding teams.”
Like Foster, Palmi said she is excited about the future of her program. ‘We have a strong senior class coming back and we have some talented younger players who will play supporting roles. Our program is established, so the goals will remain high.”
Perhaps the toughest loss came to Tohopekaliga. The Tigers were eliminated by Lake Nona in the Class 7A, Region 2 quarterfinals in five sets 25-17, 18-25, 10-25, 25-20, 16-18. Tohopekaliga, which finished the season at 22-3, had all three of its losses come to Lake Nona – losing a regular season game 3 games to 2, dropping a 3-1 decision to the Lions in the District finals before losing 3-2 in the Regionals.