Dan PearsonBy:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

It was a match that started the way it ended — in the hands of Osceola’s dynamic playmakers Cate Palmi and Kaitlyn Taylor – and the result was a 25th win and another step towards the Final Four.

Combining for 38 kills and nine aces, the duo led the Lady Kowboys to a thrilling five-set, 25-8, 25-19, 20-25, 19-25, 15-11 win over Jupiter in the FHSSA Class 7A, Region 2 volleyball semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

Pushing their season record to 25-4 overall, the top-seeded Kowboys will now host Dr. Phillips (18-10) at 7 p.m. Wednesday with an opportunity to advance to the first Final Four in school history.  The Panthers, who came into regionals as the number six seed, upset #3 seed Lake Nona on Wednesday before taking out Windermere in five sets in their semifinal Saturday night.  Although it will be the first meeting this year between the two schools, they have played eight common opponents in 2022, with Dr. Phillips going 5-3 against those opponents and Osceola recording a 7-3 mark against those same opponents. 

“When you get to this point of the season, every team you meet is going to be talented, or they would not be here,” Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said.  “So we really didn’t have a preference between Dr. Phillips or Windermere, they are both great teams.  We will watch some film on Dr. Phillips and come up with a game plan.”

In Saturday’s regional semi, Osceola looked in position for an easy victory over Jupiter.  In the opening set, Taylor served five aces and Cate Palmi came up with four kills as the Kowboys jumped out to a huge 9-0 lead.  From there, they never allowed the Warriors to score more than two points in a row and cruised to the easy 17-point win.

It was more of the same in the second set.  Although Jupiter played better, Osceola jumped out to a 17-12.  Cate Palmi and Taylor had five kills each in the set to lead the Kowboys to the stress-free set win.

Things would change drastically in game three.  

Jupiter would score the first point of the set for their first lead of the match and would later go on a 6-0 run to push the lead to 14-11.  Osceola would eventually tie the game at 19-19, but following an Osceola attack error on a short spike attempt, the Warriors would win points on two long rallies to push out to a 23-19 advantage.  A return error and kill gave Jupiter the 25-20 win and sent the match to a fourth set.

If Osceola totally dominated the first game, the same could be said for Jupiter in the fourth set.  The Warriors jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never trailed –building leads of 11-6, 17-7 and 21-9.  About the only positive for Osceola in the game was a 9-1 Kowboys’ run to close to 22-18 but could get no closer and Jupiter won to send the match to the “Race to 15” final set.

In the decisive set, both teams made several errors, traded great plays and battled on long points as they played to a 9-9 tie.  A Trinity Quick dink over the Kowboys defense made it 10-9 and then Taylor was long with a spike attempt as the Warriors took control at 11-9, forcing Palmi to call a timeout.

It was that point that Cate and Kaitlyn show took over.  Taylor would send down a thunderous spike at the net to make it 11-10.  She would then take her rotation turn at the service line.  From there, Palmi would record two kills, an attempted Jupiter spike went long, and a Warrior ball handling error made it 14-11 before Taylor would end the match with her seventh ace of the afternoon.

“Because the fifth set is only to 15, you do need to recognize that every point is vital.  We made some defensive adjustments in that fifth set to try to take away their little chip shots and Kaitlyn really got aggressive with her serves as the end.  Honestly, I’m just happy we won the first two sets,” Palmi added.

Taylor, who finished with 11 kills to go with seven aces, said she was proud of how “My teammates never got down, even after they won the third and fourth sets.    We got off to a great start but when they came back, I still had a lot of confidence in our team and was happy with the way we came together and didn’t get down on ourselves.”

Wednesday’s regional final will be Osceola’s second trip to a regional final.  In 2015, the Lady Kowboys won their first 29 games but lost to Manatee in the regional final.