EAST LAKE — Earning the opportunity to pose for pictures with a first-place trophy and medals draped around their necks made it all worth it.
After surviving two exhausting, five-game matches, Clearwater exited the East Lake High School gym late Wednesday night as county champs.
“PCAC champion is correct: Exclamation point, exclamation point,” Tornadoes coach Kara Betourne said with some added emphasis. “I'm so excited but I think we're just too tired to really celebrate right now.”
Led by a continuous assault at the net from senior Samantha Reeves, Clearwater first came back from a 2-0 deficit in the semifinals to beat Palm Harbor University, then outlasted host East Lake in five for the title.
“Palm Harbor did a good job of shutting her down, but she really did come together in this match here [against East Lake],” Betourne said of Reeves. “We couldn't have done it without her. Believe it or not she's actually very sick right now, so she had to come out and perform and she blew it out of the water. She did fantastic tonight.”
Just eight days removed from sweeping the Eagles at home, Clearwater needed an all-around effort to top their Class 7A District 9 rival on Wednesday.
“It was definitely good to beat East Lake after a long day,” Reeves said. “We had to play strong and after going back and forth with them all night we really came together.”
With district tournaments set to begin Monday, East Lake did get to leave its gym with boost of confidence considering the fight the Eagles displayed against top-seeded Clearwater. Senior middle hitter Sierra McComeskey matched up well opposite Reeves throughout most of the night while libero MaKenzie Powers helped the backcourt keep points alive.
Through five games, though, the Tornadoes attack of Reeves, Allie Russell and Ciara Lusnia proved to be too much.
Wednesday's four total matches were played simultaneously and side-by-side. PHU rebounded from its semifinal defeat against Clearwater to sweep away St. Petersburg, 3-0 and earn third place.
East Lake got into the title match by taking out St. Pete in four games during the night's other semifinal: 22-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-15.
EL - 23 – 25 – 16 – 25 – 6 --- 2
CW - 25 – 21 – 25 – 23 – 15 --- 3