By MEL SUITER
AVON PARK, Fla. --- It was a great game to start this year’s Florida College System Activities Association Volleyball Tournament - it was entertaining!
For all the tears that have fallen, all the wounds that have healed, floor burns that used to hurt and the puddles of sweat that have gathered and growing on the floor, the drama of the Sun-Lake Conference Volleyball Tournament was everything that Pasco Hernando State College desired except for the result.
The end of the season for the Bobcats was the crescendo of a hard battle that lasted five sets but South Florida State College defeated Pasco Hernando State College 3-2 to continue their drive toward the conference title.
As the ball came to rest just in front of the end line, all of the Bobcats stood together for a few seconds before they walked over to the bench, collected their equipment, walked off the parquet court while holding their heads up but wiping away something in their eyes.
Pasco Hernando State College volleyball coach Deann Newton had to take some time and then she took a deep breath and collected her emotions before she disappeared behind the locker room door to speak to her team.
“It was fun, we knew that the match had the possibility to be that and the match would go that way. We went five sets at home and five sets here and we split over the season,” Newton said, about the game. “It came down to a couple of points, South Florida played great and we played great.”
Pasco Hernando State College sophomore Linsey Christianson stands just about five feet and one inch tall and she is the libero for the Bobcats. Against the Panthers, she must have looked about 8 feet tall because if she came close to the ball, she dug it out with authority. She was diving. She was twisting. She did what she could do to keep the ball from hitting the court.
Christianson finished the game with 31 digs against the Panthers and in the third set, she served eight points in a row to lead the Bobcats to the 25-19, win.
“That girl never stops, and that girl gives 120 percent day in and day out at practice” Newton described Chiristianson’s grit out on the court. “She has been our anchor, she is a great kid and I will miss her next season.”
The defense for the Bobcats got up and got tall at the net. They made some blocks that were deep-thundering sounds from the ball that echoed across the Panther’s gym. South Florida State College was able to recover quickly, then set the ball up and apply the pressure back on the Bobcat defense.
With the match tied at 2-2, the fifth set was all that it was advertised to be- including the importance of the first point.
For the entire match, both teams provided good strong play, complete with good rallies that produced exciting points. The net play by both teams created excitement and was enjoyed by the crowd, as they approved the play of both teams with loud ovations of appreciation for the effort.
In the fifth set there were plenty of hands being clenched, plenty of eyes looking toward the ceiling- looking for divine guidance as both teams put on a show that was the best of the day.
The game action was furious for both teams.
“With every set the first point is important,” Newton said about the significance of the first point of the set. “It starts the momentum for that set so we always try to get the first point.”
The game was fun to watch from the stands, it was fun to play, it was fun to coach until the match point fell untouched after the return by freshman outside hitter for South Florida State College, Maria Rodriguez. Her return had some speed and the volleyball skidded off of the floor the just out of the reach of any of the Bobcat defenders winning the set, winning the match and ending the 2019 volleyball season for Pasco Hernando State College.
Newton said before she left the building and before she walked down the sidewalk to board the bus for the long ride home, she is going to miss this team because this is a special group of players.
The preparation for next season is already in progress with the signing of the new players. Newton said that her team will be ready for more fun and hopefully will be able to enjoy next year’s Sun-Lake Conference Volleyball Tournament a little longer.
A long time will pass before the dog days of summer arrive. It just might take that long before Newton and her team are able to put this defeat behind them.
Make no mistake about this one fact about Pasco Hernando State College Volleyball for next season, it will be exciting and entertaining to witness.
Before the bus door closed and Newton’s wave goodbye. The lobby door closed, Newton retreated into the bus and the driver pushed the clutch in and the whine of the diesel engine roared and the bus began to roll forward down the driveway - rolling toward next season!