Will the third time be a charm for the Manatee Hurricanes?
Manatee was pushed to the limit Tuesday night in the opening round of the Class 8A-Region 3 volleyball playoffs before downing Naples Gulf Coast 25-22, 23-25, 25-18, 16-25, 15-11.
Next up for the Hurrricanes is a return trip to Venice, which has beaten Manatee twice this season, including in the District 8A-11 championship match.
Venice swept Fort Myers Riverdale 25-22, 25-11, 25-10 on Tuesday.
“We had never been down here,” Manatee coach Anthony Cothron said of his team’s trip to Gulf Coast. “I tried to warn the girls, to get them ready. We just needed to stay focused through the whole thing. They (Gulf Coast) played well. They dug. There’s only been one other team that’s been able to dig the ball like that, and that’s Venice. So we knew we were going to have to play a lot of defense, keep the ball going and put a little more pressure on.”
Senior outside hitter Grayson Hall had 24 kills for the Hurricanes, while junior outside hitter Jojo Coulter had 18 kills and 12 digs. Also coming up big for Manatee were junior libero Grace Mumford, who contributed 29 digs, and junior setter Gabby Coulter (42 assists).
It looked like the Hurricanes were ready to take command after dominating the third set. Manatee led 21-13 before closing out the third at 25-18. The Hurricanes grabbed an early 4-2 lead in the fourth.
But 6-footer Gabrielle Curran led the Sharks back into the fray with six kills in the fourth as Gulf Coast jumped out to a 19-6 advantage, eventually winning the set 25-16 to force a decisive fifth set.
After trailing 3-2 early in the fifth, Manatee took command. Hall, Jojo Coulter and junior Stefani Keller led the attack. Curran tried to keep the Sharks in the fight with three more kills, but Manatee closed out the night 15-11.
“They played great. I think my girls played a little bit better,” Cothron said.
For Manatee, which won the state title in 2014 and reached the Final Four last season, Venice stands in the way of another trip to state.
“We’ve played them twice and been beaten both times,” Cothron said. “Hopefully we win the war.”