By:  J. Daniel Pearson

When it came to this past weekend’s NIKE Tournament of Champions in Tampa, Osceola High School’s Girls Volleyball head coach Carrie Palmi was less worried about wins than she was about how her team would perform against some of the best teams in the country. She would not have to wait long for the answer.

The Lady Kowboys came out swinging, opening the tournament with the biggest upset of the day as they knocked off 14th nationally ranked Flint Hill (25-18, 24-26, 15-11) in their opening match.  Sophomores Cate Palmi and Jordin Southall combined for 24 kills as the Osceola defeated the defending Virginia State champions that went 36-0 last year.

“Tremendous win for our program,” Coach Carrie Palmi said.  “We faced an outstanding opponent and went toe-to-toe with them for the entire match.  There was a lot of tension but we stood our ground.”

The rest of Friday would not be as kind to the Lady Kowboys as they dropped matches to both Oviedo (6A) and Plant (7A).   “I don’t think it was a letdown, but we definitely lost two matches to teams I think we can beat.  Tournaments like this can be exhausting, instead of playing one, five-set match a day, you may end up playing three of four best-of-three matches in one day.  Obviously, both Oviedo and Plant are high quality playoff opponents and deserved the wins.  But I don’t think we would be afraid to play them in the future.”

Palmi also noted that all-county setter Alex Liggeri was battling injuries and it caused her to juggle her lineup in those matches.

Day two was a much stronger performance by the Lady Kowboys.  

Playing Incarnate Word Academy from St. Louis – another power that plays a national schedule – Osceola recorded a come-from-behind victory, 22-25, 25-23, 15-10.  Palmi and Southall combined for 30 kills in the match and Liggeri had 28 assists.

They would then face Pace Academy of Georgia in their second match of the day.   Pace came into the match with an 11-1 record and were ranked 10th in the nation as they were coming off a 42-1 season, where they won a Georgia State Championship.

Osceola would take them to the limit before dropping a 22-25, 25-17, 17-15 decision.  “You can sometimes learn more from a loss than a win,” Palmi said.  “We took one of the top teams in the country to a third set and lost by two points.  This is the type of match that can give your team a lot of confidence, even though we did not win it.”

The Kowboys would then finish the tournament with a 3-3 record by handing Timber Creek – another team that usually makes deep runs into the playoffs – a 27-25, 25-9 setback.

For the NIKE Tournament, both Southall and Cate Palmi were named to the All-Tournament team.  They combined for 126 kills in the tournament.

Osceola has one match scheduled this week, hosting Horizon (4-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.