Freshman Cate Palmi recorded 20 kills, two aces and a block to lead Osceola to a straight set (25-22, 25-20, 25-10) win over Tohopekaliga to capture the 2022 Orange Belt Conference championship on Friday night. Harmony won the third place game with a win over Gateway (25-22, 25-15, 30-28); while St. Cloud defeated Celebration (25-17, 26-24, 26-24) in the fifth place game.
“Winning the Orange Belt Conference title was one of our team goals coming into this season,” Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said. “This will hopefully give us some momentum heading into the final week of the regular season and then districts.”
The win was the 13th in a row for Osceola (20-2) and gave the Kowboys a third consecutive win over 2021 OBC champion Tohopekaliga (12-7) – a team that beat them three times last year.
Osceola’s win was even more impressive given the fact that the Kowboys were without the services of injured libero Eimy Negron. A senior defensive specialist, Negron was the team leaders in both digs (301) and aces (43). “We have some pretty good depth at that position, but she is such a valuable asset to this team,” Palmi said. “We really hope to get her back soon.”
Even without Negron, Osceola dominated on the night. They let for most of the first set, but the Tigers did rally to go up briefly at 15-13. But Osceola would score the next four, including three on kills from Kaitlyn Taylor, to take the lead back for good. The teams would battle down the stretch but two service errors by the Tigers gave Osceola the three-point win.
Game two was also tight before Osceola went on a 9-3 run. A thunderous Palmi spike off capped the run that gave the Kowboys a 20-15 lead. The would trade points the rest of the way with Sophie Spivey ending the game with a spike down the right side for a 25-20 win.
Osceola would run away with the third set, taking leads of 5-0 and 11-1 before settling in for a 25-10 win. Fittingly, Palmi would end the match with cross court kill. She would end up with two service aces and a block to go with her 20 kills. Taylor finished with nine kills in the match; Ahnika Johnson had six kills and three blocks.
“I would give our overall effort a B or B+,” Palmi added. “We made some mistakes at the net and gave them a chance to get back in both the first and second game. But give them some credit too, they are a scrappy team and did a lot of good things defensively.”
“We fought hard the first two games and lost them both. There’s no question that zapped us of our energy and they took full advantage of that in the third,” Tohopekaliga coach Eric Capestany said. “You have to stay focused and play with high energy against a team like that for every game or you will get rolled. We lost a lot of talent last year and got off to a rough start, but we are starting to come together. We had our chances to win both the first and second games.”
Both teams will close out the regular season next week with three games. Osceola will host Timber Creek on Monday and Holy Trinity Episcopal on Wednesday; before closing out the regular season at Lake Mary. Timber Creek, 11-4 and ranked eighth in Class 7A, will present a challenge to Osceola, who is currently ranked second in Class 7A. “It will be a great test for us heading into districts,” Carrie Palmi said. “If we are fortunate to win those games in the final week, it could give us a lot of momentum headed into the post-season.”
Tohopekaliga plays at Harmony on Monday before closing out with a pair of home games against St. Cloud (10/12) and Southland Christian (10/13).
District tournaments will be held Oct. 17-20. The Kowboys will host the 7A District 6 Tournament, with Harmony, Poinciana, and Tohopekaliga. Perennial state power Lake Nona (9-4) and Cypress Creek also will participate in the tournament. Celebration will play in the 7A, District 5 with several Orlando schools; while St. Cloud is scheduled to participate in the 6A, District 7 tournament and Gateway will play in 5A, District 6 event.