That sweeping feeling

LAKELAND - There were so many aces on Thursday night you'd think McKeel Academy was hosting a poker tournament. Avon Park and Lake Placid combined to go 6-0 in the semifinal round of the Class 4A-District 9 volleyball tournament on Tuesday night, with the Red Devils sweeping Frostproof in straight sets by scores of 25-18, 25-6, and 25-10. The Green Dragons followed suit, playing the second match of the evening, sweeping district tournament host McKeel by scores of 25-13, 25-17, and 25-15. "I wanted to see a strong showing, and that's what I got," said Avon Park coach Shane Wirries. "And we brought up some junior varsity girls, and they all played really well. I was proud of them."
Wirries has been with this group of Devils for a handful of years now, and compiled an astounding 28-2 record with them when he was the junior varsity coach. "These girls are used to winning," Wirries said. "And they're real familiar with the style of play I like to see." After a shaky opening set, in which the Devils saw their seven-point lead shrink to just four late before fending off Frostproof, Avon Park put its boot on the Bulldogs throat in the second set. Paced by Otaysha Smith, who served up five aces, the Devils opened with a 16-1 run. Following a few hiccups on defense, Keianna Robinson took over on service, dealing out three more aces to guide the Devils to a 25-6 blowout victory. Avon Park jumped out to another big lead in the third set, and led by as much as 23-8 before closing out Frostproof. Meanwhile, Lake Placid was just as prolific against McKeel. Behind stellar play at the net and the always dangerous play from the front court duo of Breauna Corley and Bella Carabello, the Dragons silenced a rowdy Wildcats crowd. "We're super excited to get to the finals," said Lake Placid coach Charlotte Bauder. "I didn't have any doubt in my girls, but in volleyball you just never know. So I wanted to make sure we came out strong and focused, and we did." The Dragons cruised through the first set, winning by 12 points on the strength of eight combined kills between Corley and Carabello. "Our net play has gotten so much better over the last few weeks," Bauder said. "We've been working on it a lot in practice, and it showed tonight since we got a lot of big hits." The second set saw more domination from the Dragons. But thanks to some encouragement from the stands, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the match to close the deficit to 19-16. That was as close as they'd get, though, as Lake Placid rolled off a 6-1 run to clinch the victory and go up 2-0 in the match. Jacalyn Baldwin took over hitting duties for the Dragons in the third set, swatting three kills to guide Lake Placid to a 10-point victory. The 4A-9 district finals match is set for tonight at 7 in the Green Dragons Gym. Originally scheduled to be played at McKeel Academy, since both teams from Highlands County won, FHSAA officials decided to move the game to Lake Placid to cut down on travel time and costs. "It only makes sense," Bauder said. "I know Shane (Wirries) isn't too happy about it, but it's better for the teams. And this way, we'll have a better fan turnout than we did here in Lakeland." The regional tournament takes the top two teams from district, so both Lake Placid and Avon Park will be headed to the next round. However, if the Dragons manage to topple the Devils for the third time this season, they'll be hosting at least one regional match. Lake Placid defeated Avon Park in four sets in its two matches. 863-386-5841