The Springstead Eagles (22-3) overwhelmed the Pinellas Park Patriots (18-8) in three sets at home in the 6A District 9 Girls Volleyball District Tournament on Monday night. The fifth-seeded visitors were coming off a dominating 3-0 victory over the Clearwater Tornadoes (5-13), while the fourth-seeded Eagles were on an eight-game winning streak and had just completed a two-set comeback to defeat the Lecanto Panthers 3-2 on Thursday. With the win, Springstead locked up their first ever Gulf Coast 8 Championship. Eagles Head Coach Andrea Gracey felt that energy carried over for her squad in blanking the Patriots in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
“I think definitely coming off of our win against Lecanto last week – having homecoming, no practices – they just had a lot of momentum of wanting to build off that win last week,” Coach Gracey said. “So, they hit the ground running from the start. I mean coming out and serving and hitting. I’m very very proud of them not playing down to any levels and just playing Eagle volleyball.”
The home team started the game on an 8-0 tear with Senior Outside Hitter Ezryel Thompson drawing first blood. That would be indicative of things to come as the talented senior would score six of the Eagles’ first ten points enroute to a commanding 25-11 victory in the initial frame. The penultimate period was harder fought with the lead changing hands five times throughout the first half of the set. Ultimately, Thompson and company would again prove to be too much for the visiting Patriots. The Eagles scored 11 of the last 14 points to turn a tight 14-13 lead into a comfortable 25-16 win in the second set. The final frame went much the same way with the home team jumping out to a sizable 9-2 lead early on and never looking back. Throughout the night, Thompson blasted a bevy of kills and recorded a handful of blocks while combo blocks attempted against her proved ineffective. What exactly is it that makes the Springstead captain such an integral piece for the Eagles?
“She’s definitely been a leader on and off the court for our team and we try to feed her in the front row as much as possible because she does have the consistency,” Coach Gracey said of Thompson. “But not only that, she’s an athletic person so she can see the holes and she’s very smart. So, her hitting percentage for our team has been very consistent, but then it also helps build the other offense around her that they want to compete with her. So, when she’s in back row we definitely depend on her passing to pass up our other offensive players to really make sure we have six solid rotations around.”
The play of the rest of the team complimented Thompson’s performance throughout the night as Junior Setter Isabella Nunag deftly set the ball to Thompson in advantageous positions time and again. The result would often be a well-placed ball into a Thompson kill to send the home crowd into uproarious applause. Junior Outside Hitter Emily Miller also provided crucial plays down the stretch for the home team. Miller scored five of Springstead’s final seven points in the first period and the last four points in set two – one of which fortuitously bounced off her head during an extended exchange.
Next up for the Springstead Eagles, they will face the top-seeded Mitchell Mustangs (17-4) in the district semifinals on Tuesday night. The Mustangs were given a bye in the quarterfinals due to their status as a one seed, so they should be well-rested when taking on the talented Eagles squad. Coach Gracey knows there is a difficult path ahead, but she believes in her team.
“We’re going to go up against some tough competition in the rest of the district and hopefully a regional playoff, but these girls can hang with any team because they want it and they also have the skill,” Coach Gracey said. “So, matching those two together and making sure every single day we’re better than we were the day before, we have a bright future, and we will go as far as we can.”