Something to prove

They're only underdogs on paper. Both Avon Park and Lake Placid will be facing off against two historic volleyball powerhouses from Tampa tonight at 7 in the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals as the Red Devils head to Academy of the Holy Names for a match against the Jaguars (15-12), while the Green Dragons welcome the Berkeley Prep Buccaneers (18-7) into their gym. But don't expect either team to be intimidated. "The girls are really excited," said Lake Placid coach Charlotte Bauder. "We're going in stoked. We have nothing to lose, so we're just going to bring it."
Avon Park's Shane Wirries issued a similar sentiment. "They put on their Spandex the same way we do," he said. The leave-it-all-on-the-floor attitude served both teams well in the previous round, as they breezed through the 4A-District 9 tournament without dropping a single set. The Devils (12-10) dominated Frostproof for the third consecutive time this season while the Dragons (21-5) obliterated tournament host McKeel. And with the Dragons peaking at the right time, Bauder said she hopes her team can ride that momentum and bounce the Bucs. "They know they're capable of being beaten," Bauder said. "So our girls know they have to be really prepared for this match. They'll be one of the better teams we've played all season, but we're jelling better than we have all year, and our confidence is high." Bauder, a former standout at Lake Placid, isn't that far removed from the game herself. And thanks to her passion for the sport, combined with being a Dragons alumni, she's made her girls well aware of the historical implications of tonight's match. "They have a chance to do something that's never been done in Lake Placid history," she said. "And I've watched a lot of these girls grow up, and I really want it for them." But Bauder hasn't let her emotions get in the way of coaching. "I tell them, 'No matter what, win or lose, you go out there and play your best game, and I'll be happy with that,'" Bauder said. The Dragons have excelled this season thanks to their stellar play at the net from Bella Carabello, Breauna Corley and Jacalyn Baldwin. When those three are on, Lake Placid is practically unbeatable. If they find their rhythm early, the Bucs might find themselves walking the plank after just three sets. Meanwhile, Avon Park's Wirries has his girls playing loose. The Devils have had a roller-coaster ride of a season, with more ups than downs, with the only losses coming in games where they played not to lose. Marina Torres and Imani Tate are two of the district's best hitters, and teamed with all-around athletes like Aaliya Eastburn, Brianna Rogue and Harley Huntzinger, the Devils have been a formidable team for most opponents. "When they're on their game, they can hang with anyone," Wirries said. "So I told them, 'Let's go over here and have a good time. It might be the last game, so let's not leave anything on the table.'" Wirries knows his team can't do that if they want to upset the Jaguars. Part of that mind-set has included adding more jump serves in to the Devils offense. "I want them to be cautious," he said. "So we've been working on the jump serves. Some of the girls can do that, and it's a harder serve to return, but it also means there's more room for mistakes." "So if you have a good hard serve, let's do it. The time for caution is over." Wirries, like Bauder at Lake Placid, is wrapping up his first year of coaching at Avon Park. And he let his girls know how proud they should be of this season earlier in the week. "It's been a good time," he said. "That's the talk we had yesterday. We had a great year - one of the best records I've seen in a long time." And if the Devils upend the Jaguars and move on to the semifinals, than it's just another bonus on a year of amazing firsts. "If we win, we win," he said. "But we're going to leave it all on the table."