By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — There was one thing Charlotte High School’s volleyball team wanted in Saturday’s Gene Gorman Invitational, and it was a chance at redemption against Seacrest.
“The girls were all excited,” Coach Michelle Dill said. “They knew if we got first place (in pool play), we’d be meeting up with them again. Our girls were saying this is like a rival game, even though it’s not. They came in focused.”
The Stingrays defeated the Tarpons in last year’s championship match, and the Tarpons focused on getting a second chance. They not only got that chance, but the redemption they sought in a 29-27, 25-16 victory.
“We lost to them in preseason, too, so this was a major accomplishment for us,” senior Jessica Moore said. “It was pure wanting redemption. We feel like we’ve been working so hard. (Win) says that we all work really hard, and we all want to win. We’re all motivated.”
It looked like neither team wanted to put the other away in the first set as both held leads with chances at game-point. Eventually, the Tarpons won back-to-back points after tying it up at 27-27 before coasting in the clinchin match.
Moore had 23 assists and 14 digs while Shelby Beisner had 11 kills, and Kaylee Brannon had 21 digs.
Charlotte went undefeated in pool play with wins against Out-of-Door Academy 25-17, 25-12, DeSoto County 25-15, 25-15, and Manatee HEAT 25-12, 5-19. The usual suspects led the way for Charlotte in those wins.
Beisner totaled 14 kills, 22 digs and three aces. Emily Vaughn had a team-high 17 kills. Moore contributed up and down the stat sheet, with 12 digs, four aces, three blocks and a team-high 49 assists. Brannon had 27 digs.
“I felt like we did really well,” Dill said. “The first two matches, I had my starters play the first game, and they played very well as a team and stuck together. In the second games, I put in other players to get them on the court more, and they did well, too.”
Moore was a member of the all-tournament team, and Beisner won tournament MVP, which came with $1,000 for Charlotte’s athletic scholarships from Gene Gorman.
Lemon Bay went 1-2 in pool play, with its only win coming against Port Charlotte, before winning in the seventh-place match.
That win against Port Charlotte was a three-set match in which the Manta Rays won the first set 27-25, lost the second 22-25, and then came back to win 15-7 in the finale.
Hannah Krzysiak and Haylee Layne both led Lemon Bay in that match with six kills, while Kacee Nelson had seven digs. Caroline Hill also had five kills.
The Manta Rays were able to get a win in that match because they were able to control their free balls, something coach Pat Auer feels the team needs to improve on.
“We’re getting better,” coach Pat Auer said. “If we win our first game, we kind of let down a little bit in the second game. Especially with only three games in tournaments, you don’t have a lot of room to wiggle.”
Auer would like to see smoother passes between his team, which he feels would lead to a more aggressive attack.
“Our free balls are nice easy ones, and then they come back and hit it right down our throats,” Auer said. “Our passing isn’t always good, so our setters are trying to get to the ball, and they can’t make a good set, so our hitters are kind of panic when they don’t get a good set.”
In the final set of the day, Lemon Bay defeated DeSoto County 25-19, 25-19. Hill had 11 kills and six blocks in that win, with Kacee Nelson adding five digs. Breanna Nelson had her best match to the day, with four kills.
Hill had a team-best 27 kills and eight blocks for the tournament, while Kacee Nelson led the way with 25 digs. Ryan Carley also had 29 assists.
North Port took defending champion Seacrest to the brink in the final match of pool play seeking to clinch an appearance in the third-place bracket.
The experience of the Stingrays were too much for the Bobcats, as they won 25-17, 25-23, dropping North Port to 1-2.
“They had a really quick offense,” coach Adrienne Moreno said. “It was tough for us to close and block with their setting.”
North Port still managed to find its way into the third-place match thanks to tiebreakers, but the Manatee HEAT prevailed 26-24, 25-7.
The Bobcats’ strengths showed in its lone pool-play victory in a match against Lemon Bay. North Port won 25-13, 25-18, as they handled both sets with relative ease.
Lindsey Matthews had a team-high nine kills in that win, Sydney Hoggarth led the way with 22 assists, and Alexis Francavilla also had eight kills.
“We had really good offense and energy,” Moreno said. “When we have energy, everything flows and everything works. We kept swinging at them, and stayed aggressive.”
Francavilla, who went home with an award for making the all-tournament team, totaled 18 kills through the first three matches, with
Sydney Hoggarth contributing a team-high 55 assists. Lindsey Matthews also had 19 kills through pool play.
A young Port Charlotte team continued to grow, going 1-3 on the day, and losing the fifth-place match against Out-of-Door Academy, 25-22, 25-21.
In the lone win against North Port (10-25, 25-21, 15-13) Sam DiBene, Kiersten Tisdale and Zoe Burkhart were the difference-makers.
DiBene had six kills and four aces, Tisdale at four kills and six digs, while Burkhart had seven digs.
“I just started playing last year,” said DiBene, who totaled 15 kills for the tournament. “Everyone has really helped me out. Especially Celia (Baermann). It helps out that there’s a whole bunch of other sophomores on the team.”
Coach Christine Burkhart would still like to see improvement in her team along the net while being more reactive and use more anticipation.
“They need to read what’s going on on the other side of the court,” Burkhart said. “It’s the youth in there, that they need to see it more. They’re gaining the experience, and they’re getting better every time, it’s just not enough yet.”
DiBene did a great job for tournament, totaling nine blocks for the day.
Baermann is one of the leaders on the team. As a junior, she’s one of four upperclassmen on the roster. She has accepted the role as leader, and works on being vocal on the court.
“I like to think that I do (act like a leader),” said Baermann, who had 10 kills and two blocks for the day. “Part of that is helping the younger girls, and to letting them know it’s ok to mess up. We’re all still learning as a team, and we’re bonding as a family.”
Statistical leaders for the tournament included Tisdale with 22 kills and 18 digs, and Zoe Burkhart, who had a team-high 34 digs.
1. Charlotte (4-0)
2. Seacrest (3-1)
3. Manatee HEAT (3-1)
4. North Port (1-3)
5. Out-of-Door (2-2)
6. Port Charlotte (1-3)
7. Lemon Bay (2-2)
8. DeSoto County (0-4)