Osceola volleyball is now one game away from competing for its first state championship ever.
The Lady Kowboys got there with a convincing 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 win on Wednesday night in the FHSAA Class 7A Region 2 Championship win against Dr. Phillips. Osceola’s win – the school’s first in a regional final after coming up short in 2015 and 2020 – keeps them at home on Saturday night against Hagerty, who claimed a Region 1 championship with a four-set win over Lake Brantley.
“While we are excited about our first regional championship, I can tell you this team is not about to rest on their laurels. This is a hungry team that wants to keep taking that next step,” Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said.
After being stretched to five sets in the regional semifinal against Jupiter last week, Osceola (26-4) would not face the same fate against the Panthers — putting their foot to gas against the Panthers (18-11) and never letting up. The Kowboys would control the first two sets, building a comfortable lead in both and cruising to seven and 10 point wins.
After falling behind 10-11 in the first set, Osceola went on an 8-2 run to take an 18-13 lead. From there they built the lead to 20-15 and used three straight kills at the end of the game for a 25-18 win. It was more of the same in Game 2. Osceola build leads of 4-1, 15-8 and 21-11 and were never challenged as they cruised to a 10-point win in the second set. Palmi had seven kills and an ace in that game.
Dr. Phillips would rally in the third set. After falling behind 4-0 in the set, the Panthers took advantage of some sloppy ball handling by Osceola and back-to-back net violations, to even the score 16-16. A few minutes later they had their first game lead of the set and just second of the match when a third net violation gave them a 18-17 lead.
But the momentum was short-lived.
Sophia Spivey tied it with a thunderous cross court spike for a side out at 18-18. Spivey’s spike would turn the momentum back to Osceola’s favor as Andrea Bravo would serve out the final seven points for a 25-18 close-out win. As was the case for the entire match, it was a team effort down the stretch. Palmi would come up with a couple of kills, Bravo would blister an ace and Spivey would come up with a huge block at the net to spur the 8-0 run.
Palmi would finish the game with 23 kills, but that was just a part of the team effort. Libero Eimy Negron would finished the game with 27 digs, Kaitlyn Taylor would have six kills and 18 digs, Spivey had five kills and Alex Liggeri had 12 digs and a match-high 28 assists, Negron added seven assists.
“Again it was truly a total team effort, but I thought we were especially outstanding on defense,” Palmi said. “Winning the first two sets gave us a huge advantage, but like Jupiter in the regional semis, Dr. Phillips was able to mount a comeback. We got a little sloppy but give them credit too. Once you get to this stage, every team you face is going to be good. For as much as we exploited the holes in their defense in the first two sets, they did a good job of exploiting us in the third game. Fortunately we were able to stop their momentum and regain control of the match. When you win the first two sets, you never want to give your opponent a chance to believe they can win.”
The match marked just the third time the Kowboys had reached a Regional Final. The 2015 Kowboys won their first 29 games of the season but fell in the regional finals to Manatee. In the 2020 Covid year, Osceola advanced to the regional title game but fell to Lake Nona.
“We are a relatively young team but we have a great mixture of young players and senior leadership,” Palmi said. “The thing I admire about this team is their work ethic and their ability to keep their composure when things go wrong. Right now we are taking it one point at a time, one game at a time and one match at a time.”
The semifinal with Hagerty will be a rematch of a Sept. 9 tournament game where the Kowboys won in straight sets (25-19, 26-24). Still. Palmi says neither team has an advantage. “Other than motivation, this game doesn’t mean much to either team. I’m sure they are a lot better than they were two months ago, but I am pretty sure we are better than we were back then too.”