By J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola
Osceola’s one-two punch of sophomores Jordin Southall and Cate Palmi combined for 36 kills as the Lady Kowboys won the Class 7A, District 6 championship Thursday night with a straight set win over Lake Nona, 25-20, 25-20, 25-21.
As top seed, Osceola was listed as the home team but Lake Nona was the host-team for the District Tournament – which put the Lady Kowboys in a hostile environment. Still, Osceola –ranked eighth in the state in Class 7A and second in the region – dominated the match from the beginning.
In Game 1, Osceola scored the first four points of the match and never trailed. Palmi contribute six kills and Southall added five but it was the play of sophomore Sophie Spivey that was one of the real keys to the first set win. Spivey, considered Osceola’s third option on attack, had a big set with three kills and a block at the net for another point. “Opponents obviously key on Cate and Jordin and that can open some things up for Sophie,” Head Coach Carrie Palmi said. “She really took advantage of that tonight, especially in the first two sets.”
As with the first set, Game 2 was never really close.
With the teams tied 5-5, Osceola would use runs of 5-1 and 5-2 to eventually build a 19-11 lead. Lake Nona, behind six kills and an ace from Anna Pantano, managed a late run of their own but could only close to 22-17. Southall would have six kills in the set and Palmi would end it when she ripped a cross court spike that skipped off the top of the net and fell in the far corner for a point and a 25-20 win.
The Lions would show some life in the third set. The teams would battle back-and-forth, with neither team able to get more than a two-point lead for much of the set. Osceola would finally take control on Southall’s seventh kill of the game – taking a 17-14 lead.
The teams traded points before a Pantano kill closed the Osceola lead to 21-18. From there, the Lions had back-to-back ball handling errors but the Kowboys had two return errors to make it 24-20. Southall would be wide on a spike, but on the next point a Lake Nona return went wide and Osceola had the game and sweep.
Thursday’s match was a far different from a Sept. 20 regular season meeting between the two schools. In that match, Osceola won the first two games but Lake Nona rallied back to force a fifth and deciding set – won by the Kowboys, 15-11.
“We really studied that match and saw how they attacked us,” Carrie Palmi noted. “We came up with a defensive game plan for them tonight that really neutralized that attack – particularly in the first two games.”
The win not only gave Osceola the district title but insured they would start regional play at home next Wednesday. The Lady Kowboys, 21-6 on the season, are ranked eighth in Class 7A and second in Region 2. A win on Wednesday would also put them at home for the Regional semifinal. Lake Nona, ranked 12th in the state in 7A and third in Region 2, fell to 17-7 on the season and most likely will earn one of four at-large berths for regionals.
Osceola, which won its first regional title in school history last year and made it to the Final Four, enters regional play on a hot streak. They have won 10 of their last 11 matches, with their loss coming on the road to Winter Park, the top ranked team in 7A and #2 ranked team in the state. “We’ve played a super tough schedule this year, with many of those games on the road,” Carrie Palmi added. “I think this team is battle-tested but it will be nice to get our next playoff game at home.”
The Kowboys are not the only Osceola County team advancing in the playoffs. Top-seeded Gateway (17-8) captured the 5A, District 6 title with a 25-18, 25-11, 25-17 straight set win over Lake Wales. In other action, St. Cloud (9-18) – who defeated Kathleen and then upset top-seeded Bartow – saw its season come to an end with a straight set loss to Lakeland in the Class 6A, District 7 championship game.