Manatee High School’s bid for its second state championship appearance in three years fell just short as the Hurricanes lost to St. Thomas Aquinas in five sets during the Class 8A semifinals in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.
After dropping the first two sets 25-19 and 25-22, the Canes found their groove in the third with a 25-14 win. In the fourth set, Manatee built a 17-12 lead and held on for a 25-20 victory.
Manatee jumped to a slim lead in the fifth set, but the Raiders proved too powerful and claimed the final set 15-8. Despite the close loss, head coach Tony Cothron was proud of the resilience his team displayed on the road in a hostile environment.
“The team stepped up and said, ‘We’re not going down like this,” Cothron said of his team after falling behind 2-0. “We took it one point at a time, and they handled it well. I don’t think anything got us down.”
Resiliency was the theme throughout the match for the Hurricanes. Down 11-3 to start the contest, the Canes battled back behind the play of twin sisters JoJo and Gabby Coulter, who helped the team draw within two points during the set before the Raiders won.
“They’re a great team and it’s a testament to them for fighting back,” St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Lisa Zielinski said of the Hurricanes.
The Canes were led by Jojo Coulter, who finished with 27 kills and 9 digs, while her sister Gabby added 41 assists. Grayson Hall contributed 16 kills with Grace Mumford and Kara Sayer each adding nine digs.
St. Thomas was led by Brook Bauer, an All-American outside hitter, who finished the contest with 20 kills and 15 digs. Allison Marble also added 21 kills, 15 digs and 15 service points for the Raiders.
While falling one win short of the state final is admirable, Cothron said the team will regroup and shoot even higher next season.
“We’ll see what happens next year, but they’ll be focused going forward,” he said.
With the victory, St. Thomas Aquinas advances to face Tampa Plant in the final. Plant advanced with a five-set victory against Tallahassee Leon on Saturday.