Titans topple Panthers

AVON PARK - It was arguably the most competitive sweep you'll ever see from a volleyball match. Probably the most entertaining one, too. St. Petersburg College came into South Florida State's Panther Gym on Thursday night, as the Titans earned their first win of the season by sweeping the Panthers, 3-0, by scores of 25-23, 25-22, and 28-26 to capture a critical Suncoast Conference match. The loss dropped SFSC to 3-8 on the season overall, and 1-3 in conference play. "The scores were super close," SFSC coach Kim Crawford said. "We had some great kills. There were some good pick ups and a lot of digs. We did some really good things. But the bottom line is, it's another loss."
The first set was tightly contested from the opening serve. But with the score tied at seven, SPC went on a 4-0 run. With the Titans now up 11-7, Crawford called a time out to let her team regroup. Coming out of the Huddle, the Panthers responded by winning the next point, but the three-point deficit would haunt them [for] the rest of the set. Down as much as five at one point, SFSC battled back to pull within 23-21 late in the set, but a handful of errors let the Titans escape with the win. The Panthers found a better rhythm in the second set. SFSC jumped out to an early 6-3 advantage, holding the lead for much of set thanks to stellar play at the net from Jasmine Kelly and Abbey Rouch. The pair decimated the Titans' defense, laying down a myriad of touch shots and kills at all different spots on the court. But once again, critical errors at critical times cost the Panthers a victory. A 15-11 lead shrank to 22-21, and the Titans rode star hitter Kristin Schroeder to a comeback win. "Physically, we're strong and in great shape," Crawford said. "But we just seem unable to finish. And we can't seem to finish when we really need to." Paced by Kendall Baum in the third set, the Panthers again got out to a big lead. Playing with new-found energy, Baum seemed to score every point by herself, viciously spiking the ball past the suddenly defenseless Titans. SFSC's bleacher creatures were at their loudest in the third set as well, rocking the bleachers enough to distract SPC into a few faults on its serves. Up 18-13 late, it seemed as if SFSC would stave off the sweep. But that's when Schroeder came alive. The Titans continued to feed their hitter, setting up perfect shot after perfect shot, and SPC charged back to tie the set at 23. The battle was a back-and-forth affair after that. Tied at 26, Bianca Lannello finally broke through the Panthers defense, hammering a spike into the hardwood. Following a long rally, she finished off SFSC with another kill to clinch the match. "I think our biggest weakness, is not having a go-to kid," Crawford said. "The stat's reflect that; we're a balanced team. There's no one that really stands out more than anyone else." "Not even Kendall, who finished with six kills tonight." SFSC will be back in action again today, with a mid-morning match at 11 a.m. against Eastern Florida State College, followed by an afternoon match at 3 p.m. against Clearwater Christian College. Both matches are nonconference. bhoward@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5841