By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay’s six seniors went out on top to finish the regular season Thursday night.
The Manta Rays took advantage of an inept Gateway Charter squad and ran away with a 25-12, 25-17, 25-14 sweep on Senior Night, bouncing back from a tough loss to Port Charlotte the night before.
Seniors Kacee Nelson, Haylee Layne, Breanna Nelson, Emily Schulte, Aimee Holt and Ryan Carley were all honored before the match for their four seasons in blue and orange. Breanna Nelson led the Manta Rays with seven kills and three aces, Lane had five kills and three aces and Kacee Nelson scored a team-high five digs.
“When the seniors were all in we played our game and were really just happy to all be together for our last game,” Kacee Nelson said. “I think that’s what we needed. We need more enjoyment in the game.”
It was truly a balanced effort as usual from Lemon Bay in the win as freshman Hannah Krzysiak also also delivered six kills and junior Francesca Gallucci served three aces. With the district tournament beginning Monday against Cape Coral, the Manta Rays (11-13) admitted they needed this win as a boost heading into that matchup.
Even if the boost came against the less-talented Griffins (3-15).
“This was good practice to get ready for Monday night’s game,” Lane said.
Lemon Bay didn’t trail very often in the match. The Griffins started the match with the first point but the Manta Rays scored the next three and never trailed again in the first set, a set they utterly dominated. In fact, nine of the Griffins’ 12 points came via hitting errors or violations as they struggled to put together any semblance of offense.
Gateway Charter was much better offensively in the second set and even put a scare into Lemon Bay, which led 10-4 early. But the Griffins cut the deficit to 14-11 before scoring four straight points to actually take a 1-point advantage.
A shot into the net tied the set at 15 and then an ace by Gallucci put the Manta Rays back in front by a point. Lemon Bay would allow Gateway Charter to tie the frame again on a hitting error before scoring nine of the final 10 points to take the set 25-17.
Maddie Taylor ended the set with five straight points on serve, including two aces.
Lemon Bay coach Pat Auer then played all his seniors in the final set, even moving them around into different positions. That allowed Kacee Nelson, known for her back-end defense, to move to the net and get the first kill of her career.
“You could see her jumping and smiling,” Auer said. “She’s so short and she was like ‘I don’t want to play front row’ and I said well you’re playing all the way around because it’s Senior Night.”
Gateway Charter actually led the final set 4-0 and later 6-5 before Lemon Bay scored 14 of the next 16 points to put the match to bed. Carley got a lot of action in the final set, scoring two aces and a kill while Breanna Nelson had three of her kills and two of her aces in the frame, including a kill for the final point of the match.
“I had them all play the third game,” Auer said of his seniors. “We started off kind of slow and I was like ‘uh oh’ but I had Haylee in the middle and Breanna outside so I had them a little mixed up there but once they settled down they played together. They did really good so I’m really proud of them.”