If all the Orange Belt Conference tournaments go like the volleyball event did this week, then there’s some drama and excitement in store around the county this school athletic year.
Inside a packed, loud and rocking Mike Brizendine Gym at Poinciana High School on Thursday night, Osceola and St. Cloud waged an incredibly exciting battle for the OBC title, the first one Osceola County handed out via a three-round tournament.
St. Cloud, who won the conference title by sweeping county opponents in regular-season play last year, looked to defend the crown after winning two of the first three sets Thursday. But Osceola came roaring back to take the final two sets, win the thrilling match 20-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 15-10, and claim the OBC crown. The teams also played a five-setter that Osceola won in their regular-season meeting Aug. 27.
St. Cloud (13-4) led Osceola (15-1), 17-11 in the third set, and that was the largest lead either team had the entire match, which is best described as two hours of volleying, hitting and otherwise incredibly-played volleyball.
The Kowboys had to rally from losing the first set, and did it behind the power game of Allison Palmi, who had 20 kills and 21 digs, middle blocker Malina Spencer, who put down seven blocks, and the setting of Janleen DeJesus, Coach Carrie Palmi’s cast of seniors.
“We had to make smarter choices in our offense, and we did that in the fourth set,” Palmi said. “We got off to a slow start in the first set, and I was pretty disappointed in that. It showed we have to improve our mental focus. After that, the momentum was flowing our way into game five.”
“This team showed its character. We had a group of seniors who decided they weren’t losing tonight, and everyone else played hard around them.”
The Bulldogs countered with the versatile play of Brooke Singleton, Aniesha Neff and Paige Alise, the setting of Jazmin Santiago, and the middle play of blocker Eno Inyang to win the third set.
But Osceola answered by dominating the fourth set, and after spotting St. Cloud the first five points of the deciding fifth game, Spencer, Palmi and Yaralis Lopez took it over; the Kowboys scored eight of 10 points to turn a 7-5 deficit into a 13-9 lead that they’d close out minutes later.