Tuesday’s regional final ran the entire spectrum of emotions for St. Cloud’s volleyball team.
Playing in front of a hostile crowd at Winter Springs, a perennial playoff team with the banners of past success hanging in its gym, the Bulldogs were the ones who looked like the experienced veterans early on, winning the first two sets.
Then came the shock and awe of watching the Bears take the next two, holding all the momentum going to the deciding fifth set.
Then there was the stern will to put things back in order, playing point-for-point with Winter Springs for the first half of that final set.
And finally, the bitter disappointment of watching the Bears pull away and end what started so hopefully earlier in the night.
Playing in their first regional final in nearly two decades, the Bulldogs (21-5) ended up on the wrong end of a 22-25, 13-25, 25-15, 25-14, 15-12 decision to the Bears (20-10).
The solid play in the first set, combined with the ease of winning the second, may have been a double-edged sword, Coach Ettie Singleton said, as it may have done a number of St. Cloud’s competitive edge.
“The funny thing is we were passing it great the whole match, we just didn’t get the offense later on that we did in the beginning,” she said. “We needed to finish more touches. Winter Springs just kept coming back.”
The first set was a tight affair until Abbie Tutor, St. Cloud’s lone senior, scored three points during a 5-0 stretch that put the Bulldogs up 24-18. A handful of other Bulldogs got in on the act in the second set — Brooke Singleton, Eno Inyang, Jazmin Santiago, Kaylee Tutor and Paige Alise — as they contributed with big points at the net via the hit or block, or service aces as St. Cloud looked totally in control, winning 13 of 16 points in one stretch.
Then Winter Springs showed why it was a 2015 state champion and a regular player in the regional playoffs. The Bears unleashed senior hitter Hope Matschner, an Iona University commit who had a 26-kill, 21-dig performance Tuesday according to Winter Springs’ stats, who helped ignite the Bears’ offense while St. Cloud didn’t look tack-sharp like they did in the first two games. The Bears went on two separate 7-0 runs to stave of elimination in the third set, then got enough Matschner mashes to offset Santiago, Inyang and Alise’s work at the net in the fourth set. And it was Matschner who sparked a run in the fifth set that saw a 7-7 score quickly go 12-8 to Winter Springs.
Winter Springs will play St. Thomas Aquinas in Saturday’s state semifinals. Had St. Cloud won Tuesday, it could have gotten revenge on the Raiders for knocking them out of the basketball Final Four in Lakeland last year — Inyang and Alise were on that basketball team, too.
St. Cloud hadn’t won a district title or regional playoff match since 2000, but could — should — be in the mix to may another deep run next year. Coach Singleton returns her daughter Brooke, Inyang, Alise, Santiago, Kaylee Tutor, libero Jecenys Martinez and back row specialists Aniesha Neff, Yeishlanie Reyes and Jessica Henkel.
“Despite how we feel now it was a really great season,” Coach Singleton said. “And with this all these kids got the experience of the playoffs they can use to their advantage next time.”