BRADENTON -- After a stretch of six games in three days from Sept. 17-19, Manatee had a chance for a brief reprieve. The Hurricanes didn't return to action until 10 days later when they hosted Tampa Alonso in a district volleyball match in the Manatee High School gymnasium Tuesday.
The Canes went with their starting lineup -- except Gabby Coulter, who is out until at least next week with an undisclosed injury -- and only needed it for a few minutes. The Hurricanes' third district game was one of their easiest wins of the season. Manatee finished the first set with 10 straight points and swept Alonso 3-0 (25-5, 25-12, 25-13).
"We had one game to kind of get back in to the swing of things before we start going hard into the postseason," Manatee team captain Jacqui Armer said.
The bulk of Manatee's final five regular season games have some sort of significance. The Hurricanes (14-1, 3-0 Class 8A-District 6) have two games against Lakewood Ranch - which beat the Canes twice in 2014 - one against perennial state contender Venice and one against Lithia Newsome in what could serve as a de facto district title game.
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The stretch begins Wednesday at Lakewood Ranch High School.
This made Tuesday's blowout win against the Ravens (1-7, 0-4) more important than a meeting between powerhouse and bottom-dweller usually would be. Although Manatee has
won 14 matches, the Hurricanes haven't always been smooth. For two matches at the start of the month, the Canes could hardly keep a serve in play. Other times their focus has faded and errors piled up. Tuesday was their final chance at a tune-up before the most grueling part of Manatee's schedule begins.
"We're just trying to make sure that we cut down on our mistakes," head coach Tony Cothron said, "making sure that when we're in the game, (we're) trying to get them to alleviate a lot of their service mistakes."
The Hurricanes stuck with their starters for most of the opening set and played a clean frame. The Canes didn't commit a single error during the run of play and logged eight aces while committing only one service error. Outside hitter Grayson Hall recorded four of those aces, outside hitter Haley Coulter had three kills, and middle blockers Stefani Keller and Armer each added two.
Manatee quickly emptied its bench. Keller wound up with six kills after she piled up four more during the second set and outside JoJo Coulter led the team with seven. Kara Saylor, who started at libero, scored three kills, doubling her season total.
"We had some bumps in the road earlier in the season," Armer said, "but it's come together nicely when it's supposed to, so hopefully we don't plateau, we just keep going up."