PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University continued its stretch of dominate volleyball Thursday night by sweeping Sarasota Riverview, but more importantly, the Hurricanes locked up the district's top seed.
“We knew it was really important to finish this game because it would determine where we're seeded and who we would be playing,” said senior leader Naomi Mack. “We had that mentality and we came out here and got the job done.”
Mack led the 'Canes with a team-high eight kills on a night that was highlighted by the play of PHU's defensive backcourt. Ameije Ismaili, Emma Strong and Elena Huy combined for 40 digs and helped keep numerous long volleys in play for eventual finishes.
PHU coach Tara Kuk noted the strong, consistent play of her defense and its ability to also affect Riverview's service game following the match.
“Our service game and defense is just so strong,” Kuk said. “We have Mia [Ismaili] who's an amazing libero. But then our freshman, Emily Strong, she makes it so teams don't know where to serve.
“They're purposefully trying to avoid the two of them and that makes the other team's service game really hard to have such a small window to serve.”
Joining Mack on the attack were Jazmine Barker (seven kills), Strong (seven) and AnnaMarie Huy (six).
The victory improved PHU to 14-2 overall and 4-1 in Class 8A District competition. Riverview falls to 15-4 and 3-2, respectively.
The 'Canes have now won nine straight matches and 17 consecutive games, dating back to a 3-2 win over district-foe Bradenton Manatee on Sept. 17. PHU's last loss came against Riverview, a 2-0 loss during a tournament early last month at Clearwater Christian College.
Though PHU has dropped only two matches all season, Kuk said it's impressive to see her team continue to improve against quality opponents. Other than when Riverview led off Thursday's third game with a 1-0 advantage, the 'Canes never trailed.
“We battled the first time we played them and to sweep them really shows that we're continuing to grow as a team. To me, that's so exciting as a coach; to see your team get better every time we play a good team. Hopefully that continues into playoff time.”
Two regular-season matches remain on PHU's schedule before the District 8A-8 tournament gets underway on Oct. 22. Wrapping up the top seed is advantageous for any team, but even more so in this league. There is no set tournament site, meaning the top seed gets to host throughout and that PHU never has to leave its home court.