CLEARWATER -- Back in the region tournament for the first time in five years, Out-of-Door Academy's volleyball team was happy to be playing a match Wednesday night.
And even after the Thunder lost 3-0 to Clearwater Central Catholic in a Class 3A-Region 3 quarterfinal, ODA coach Craig Wolfe was quick to give a positive appraisal to the season and the girls who made it happen.
He was, however, left wondering what might have been.
"We just weren't able to sustain. We were good in spurts," said Wolfe, whose team finished with a 12-10 record. "But we just weren't able to maintain that momentum. Our intensity wavered throughout the sets, and that was disappointing, because I think if we could have brought our best, it would have been a very exciting match."
The Thunder appeared to turn a corner late in Game 1, when they erased a 22-19 deficit and evened the score at 24 before the Marauders (21-7) captured the final two points on a pair of ODA errors.
ODA jumped to a 1-0 lead in Game 2 on a kill by Lauren Maxey and tied it at 2 on a CCC service error, but then watched the Marauders rip off a 10-point run.
CCC won Game 2 25-14 and coasted to a 25-11 victory in the clincher.
"The last timeout (in Game 1) was all about just looking for momentum, not worrying about winning or losing that game," Wolfe said. "And boy, they did that much more to a point than I thought they would. So I felt good going into the second game, but again, we got off to a slow start.
"We were good in spurts, and in spurts, not so much. You can't do that against a quality team and a well-coached team."
Maxey, a junior, finished with seven kills, three aces and 16 digs. Samantha Albano had 15 digs, Emily Greenwood added four blocks and Haley Preininger had 12 assists and 10 digs for the Thunder.
Albano, Preininger and Greenwood are seniors and were key in turning around a Thunder team that didn't win a district game last fall.
"The fact that we were playing for the district championship and playing in the regional, that's a really exciting step for our program," Wolfe said. "And it's a testament ... to how hard these girls have worked."
Maxey returns next season, as does sophomore Natalie Buffett and junior Monica Costa. All three were in the starting lineup Wednesday.
"We feel like this is a great building block for the future of the program," Wolfe said. "These kids have raised the bar for ODA, and now it's up to the younger kids to keep doing that, as well."