The faces of the Leon volleyball team displayed anything but pressure after a first-set loss to Tampa Plant during Saturday’s 7A state semifinal at Leon.
The Lions were loose and jovial. It manifested in resiliency to win the next two sets and pull within a set win of their state championship dream.
Plant, however, had similar aspirations, and the Panthers dreams were realized at the expense of the Lions’.
Plant took the final two sets to win a 3-2 match 25-22, 20-25, 17-25, 25-16 and 15-12, keeping Leon from reaching the title game.
“Stakes are higher in the Final Four and everybody is rising up,” Lions coach Angie Strickland said. “We knew they had four girls they went to. We studied them like no other. We just didn’t pull through today, but man if we did nothing else today we showed Tallahassee some great volleyball.”
Plant (27-6) got 6-foot-1 junior middle hitter Kaylie Butts involved early and often. Between her and her outside hitters, the ball was extremely forceful on their kill attempts, causing trouble on Leon’s back end.
“It hurts, but they played their hearts out,” Strickland said. “We could have definitely played better defense. We talked about it in practice, having to be able to take the hard balls.”
Leon (22-8) held an 11-10 lead in the tiebreaker, but the Panthers closed aggressively. The Lions loss ends the career of a strong senior class.
Setter Jaynie Mitchell had 22 assists, while Daijah Washington had 12 kills. Freshman Makayla Washington was a difference maker in racking up 15 kills, while junior Caroline Kirk had 11 kills.
“This year, we went to state and I couldn’t be more proud of the intensity our program has brought back to Leon,” Daijah Washington said. “I can’t wait to see what Leon has in store for years to come.”
Tampa Plant def. Leon, 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 17-25, 25-16, 15-12)
Kills— Makayla Washington 15, Daijah Washington 12, Caroline Kirk 11
Digs— Hannah Rodriguez 8, D. Washington 6, Jaynie Mitchell 5, Elyse Thompson 5
Assists— Jaynie Mitchell 22
Blocks— M. Washington 3 assist, 1 solo; Kirk 4 assist, 1 solo; Grace Pickron 2 assist, 1 solo
Aces— D. Washington 3, Veronica Teek 1