BRADENTON -- Prior to the start of Tuesday's Class 7A-District 11 volleyball semifinal, Rachel Batey had a confession to make.
"I'm honestly nervous," Manatee's first-year head coach said to Matt McElhiney, Braden River's head coach and the Hurricanes' opponent for the sixth time this season.
Manatee won the previous five meetings, but Batey understood it's tough to beat the same team six times in a single season.
But her Canes did just that, beating the Pirates 3-0.
Second-seeded Manatee (24-2) hosts top-seeded and nationally ranked Venice at 7 p.m. Thursday in the district championship match.
To do so, the Hurricanes had to get past Braden River.
"You learn a team after playing them five times," Batey said. "So yeah, I was
It didn't take long for the players to soothe their coach's nerves. Manatee got customary performances from its big hitters, including Becca Butler (16 kills, 12 digs) and Rachel Drummey (nine kills, nine digs and seven blocks), while senior Kayla Armer (35 assists) spent the night setting them up.
Manatee also got a big performance from its bench. While senior Allie Clements rested a sore leg, sophomore Jesse Durst started in her place and had 13 digs and three aces.
"(Clements is) just resting (Tuesday). ... I'd rather have her be 100 percent on Thursday," Batey said. "(Durst) played great. I'm really happy with what she did."
Aside from sending Manatee to Thursday's final, the win has the Hurricanes headed to the regional tournament, which gets under way Oct. 31. It's their first regional appearance since 2008.
"For the seniors, this is huge for them," Batey said.
The Pirates closed the year at 19-8 and graduate two senior starters in Courtney McDevitt (six kills, eight digs) and Demi-Shay Watchorn (22 assists).
"I think the biggest thing that bothered us was (Manatee) served really well against us, and we couldn't put our serve-receive together (Tuesday)," McElhiney said. "We just couldn't pass their serving."
Despite the ending, McElhiney said he was pleased with the season and excited for the amount of talent returning to Braden River next fall.
"We lost eight seniors last year, but I feel we were a better team this year," he said. "Even though we were younger in a sense, I felt we were more experienced a little bit better."
Manatee, meanwhile, will look to beat the powerful Indians, who swept the Hurricanes earlier this month in Venice.
"We had the second and third games, but we let it slide. I think it was a learning experience," Butler said about the regular-season match. "It should be a great game."