By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Volleyball has come easy for the Tarpons this season but that wasn’t the case Thursday night.
Charlotte had to rally back multiple times against Sarasota and even dropped just its second set of the entire season. But like their previous 13 matches, the Tarpons held on for a victory, defeating the Sailors 25-21, 25-22, 15-25, 25-21.
The Sailors (9-6) nearly forced a decisive fifth set when they built a 19-17 lead in the fourth, but the Tarpons (14-0) scored eight of the final 10 points to remain undefeated on the season.
“I knew coming in this would be a very tough match,” Charlotte coach Michelle Dill said. “The first time we played them they didn’t have their starting setter and it went four [sets] and it was a battle that match too so I knew coming in it would be a tough match. But the girls stepped up.”
Emily Vaughn ruled the net all night, tallying 17 kills for the Tarpons. Shelby Beisner also had 13, and Michelle Bunch had 12.
It took a team effort from the Tarpons to pull out the win, especially after dropping the third set when the offense looked erratic. The Sailors were able to put together runs of seven and six straight points in the set thanks to Hannah Hritz, Anna Massey and Rachel Meringer, who together combined for six kills and three aces in the frame.
Hritz finished with a team-high 16 kills, Meringer had 11 and Massey scored 10. Hritz and Massey also finished with four aces apiece.
“That third game was kind of scary but we came through,” Vaughn said.
Sarasota’s trio helped the Sailors build a 19-17 lead in the fourth set before a kill by Vaughn sparked Charlotte’s decisive run. Bunch followed with a kill to pull the tarpons to within a point, and although Sarasota scored to go back up two on a long serve, Charlotte took the lead after two shots went out of bounds and Bunch scored another on a block.
Beisner and Bunch then had back-to-back kills to put Charlotte ahead 22-20 and Beisner later had another kill to increase the lead to 24-21. The match was finally over when a return by the Sailors went long, sending the Tarpons into a jubilant cheer.
“In the fourth set I told them to mix up their shots because they kept hitting hard and kept getting blocked so I told them they had to put the ball in different areas to get them on their heels and once they got them on their heels they were able to win.”