LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The scene became repetitive for Manatee High's volleyball team during the waning moments of the opening frame Wednesday in the gymnasium at Lakewood Ranch High School. JoJo Coulter served and the Mustangs' return triggered a Hurricane kill.
The first pass would find its way to Gillian Cassiday, who set up Haley Coulter for a point-winning spike. The Canes scored seven of their final 10 points during the first set this way to turn a two-point lead into a blowout win. Manatee found its rhythm and swept Ranch 3-0 (25-13, 25-14, 25-23) in a non-district rivalry bout.
"She had quite a few kills," Hurricanes head coach Tony Cothron said. "We're starting to come together a little more and if we continue on the path we're going I think we're gonna be fine."
Cassidy, who played the entire game with fellow setter Gabby Coulter injured, racked up 33 assists and Coulter, a Tulsa commit, finished with a team-high 15 kills. The only other points scored during the Canes' momentum-sealing run came on aces and an error by the Mustangs.
Manatee (15-1, 2-1 Class 8A-6) had to dig out of a 6-4 hole in the first set before clinching the win with a 10-0 run, which extended into the second set. The Hurricanes scored the first two points of the second set as well and never trailed Ranch (6-6, 4-2 Class 7A-11) during the frame.
"We got stuck in not a strong rotation for us," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "They just took advantage of us. It was a tough team to play against because I think they were a little bit bigger than we were. We just had a lot of trouble blocking them and it's something that we're continuing to work on."
A year ago, both teams reached the state semifinals and are playoff-bound again this season. The Canes' run 2014 ended with a state championship and Manatee has all but one player back. The Mustangs bowed out in the semis and lost eight seniors.
Although the faces are different now at Ranch, the
Hurricanes remember Lakewood Ranch as the team that handed them two of their five losses last season. Even though it wasn't a district game, the Canes had their two meetings with the Mustangs marked as a chance for a bit of revenge.
"They know every loss that they get, so I didn't really have to say much other than, 'Remember last year,'" Cothron said. "They just came out and said we're gonna take care of business, get off the court, get our rest in and get out of here."
By the third set, Cothron was able to dig deep into his bench against Ranch, which was playing without injured outside hitter Kahlee York. Manatee charged out to a 21-14 lead and Lakewood Ranch began to gradually chip away.
Eventually the Mustangs cut the Hurricanes' lead to 24-23. Cothron called upon middle blocker Jacqui Armer, a Louisiana State commit who finished with seven kills. The Canes gathered the serve by Ande McDonald, who recorded a pair of aces during Ranch's late push, and found JoJo Coulter. The outside hitter rose from the left side and smashed her 10th kill of the match to finish off Manatee's victory.
"They just wanted to come out and make sure that they felt comfortable," Cothron said. "We came out and just made sure that we stayed focused on our side and eliminated the mistakes again."