PALM HARBOR — St. Petersburg couldn't match up Tuesday night at Palm Harbor University as the host Hurricanes dominated their Class 8A District 8 semifinal.
PHU blasted the Green Devils 25-7 in the opening game and were never threatened en route to securing the program's sixth-straight district final entry.
“I wouldn't say easy because there's always extra pressure at this time,” said PHU coach Tara Kuk of the impressive victory. “A score of 25-7 is going to take a little wind out of your sails. I don't care how mentally tough you are.”
Although the 'Canes received another quality effort at the net from Naomi Mack, Jazmine Barker, AnnaMarie Huy and Jetta Brady, their under-the-radar backcourt again helped keep balls off the floor and set up quality attack opportunities.
“We have such a good back line that doesn't always get the credit," Kuk said. "When people think of our team they think of Naomi and Jazmine and now AnnaMarie. But they couldn't look like they do if it wasn't for Emma [Strong] and Mia [Ismaili] and our defenders.”
PHU followed up the Game 1 waxing with another blowout in the second, 25-15, but credit St. Pete for not mailing it in late. The Devils came back from six points down to get within 23-21, but PHU closed it out with consecutive points on a Brady kill and a Strong ace.
“I knew they were going to be a good team but we definitely played one of our best matches tonight,” said Barker, PHU's leading attacker Tuesday with 11 kills. “We limited our errors so much, we put balls down and our defense was great. This is districts now and we definitely want to be district champs again like last year.”
Mack (nine kills), Huy (seven) and Strong (six) led the PHU attack with Barker. Mack also recorded a team-high six blocks and Brady hit four aces.
The top-seeded 'Canes will be going for their second consecutive league title on Thursday night against the winner of No. 2 Sarasota Riverview and No. 3 Bradenton Manatee. No matter the opponent, PHU will host the match at 7 p.m.
Helping fuel Tuesday's effort was last week's disappointing finish at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference finals, both Kuk and Barker said. PHU medaled when it swept St. Pete in last Wednesday's third-place match, but an opening-night loss to Clearwater left a sour taste.
“I think that PCAC loss was a little punch to the stomach just because we played so consistently up until then,” Kuk said. “I don't even know how to explain that loss to Clearwater.”
“Because of the upset at PCAC's, it motivated us more to go out and win this game in three,” Barker said.
PHU went 1-1 against Manatee this season and 2-1 when facing Riverview.