On Tuesday night, the Hernando Leopards (7-7, 2-0) pounced on the Lecanto Panthers (5-9, 1-2) in three sets at the Leopards Den. Despite the disappointing season so far, the visitors came into the match on an upswing as they had won three out of their last five contests. For the home team, they had lost their last six contests versus Lecanto with their most recent win over the Panthers coming in September of 2019. With Senior Jaine Reid Steinkamp returning to the lineup, Head Coach Robin Bailey and the Leopards were able to build some momentum heading into the back stretch of their season.
“They stayed positive,” Coach Bailey said. “They stayed together. We had a tournament this weekend. We had some good things, but we had a lot to work on yesterday in practice, but I’m proud of them. We stayed together. It’s homecoming week. There’s a lot of distractions going on and they played together. It was really good… They were going after balls, didn’t let just one drop and just stop. That’s something we’ve been working on, not just giving up.”
Despite all the potential distractions, the Leopards got to work and confidently dispatched the Panthers 25-15 in the first set. The opening frame saw the Panthers leap out to a 4-1 lead thanks to a pair of errors by Hernando and a duo of scores by Sophomore Devin Pulham. After this, it was all Leopards. They would outscore the visitors 13-4 starting at a critical juncture when the home team was leading 8-7. This stretch was thanks in part to blocks by Senior Jacqueline Cuevas and Junior Brooke Hart and a litany of errors by Lecanto.
Coach Bailey and company would carry that momentum into the second stanza. In the early going of set two, Hernando led 9-8. Then, they took off again. Hernando scored 14 out of the next 16 points to sprint past Head Coach Wanda Grey and the Panthers by a 25-14 margin.
The final frame was more of the same. Despite efforts by Lecanto players like Junior Madison Weedman, who recorded a score and one-and-a-half blocks early, the Green and Gold ran out of steam. After facing a 10-8 deficit early on, Coach Bailey’s squad added another 9-1 streak shortly before Steinkamp called game and tipped the ball over the net for the set’s final point. Lecanto would layer on a few points late, but Hernando still won comfortably 25-18.
“[Jacqueline Cuevas’s] blocking, shortest one on my team, blocking all those balls. I mean that’s huge. [Jane Reid Steinkamp] just got back from a broke toe. She hadn’t played in a few weeks. So, it really brought a spark to us.”
On the night, Cuevas recorded 15 digs, 4 kills, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. Steinkamp added 4 kills, 4 aces, 4 digs, and 2 blocks. Even beyond Cuevas and Steinkamp, other players made key contributions in Tuesday’s victory as well. Junior Kaiya Ward slammed down 9 kills and Hart logged 12 assists among other contributors.
Looking ahead to later this week, the Panthers will host the Weeki Wachee Hornets on Thursday. Their non-district game will start at 7:30. For the Leopards, they will host the Nature Coast Tech Sharks in a district game on Tuesday. Coach Bailey will be looking for “a little bit more coverage” from her players against their cross-town rivals next week.