DURANT — Palm Harbor University first-year coach Dexter Rogers sat in his courtside chair like he was watching a Saturday matinee. Relaxed and focused with minimal stress.
PHU (25-5), playing with the calmness that Rogers subscribes to, advanced to a region final for the second time in school history with a 25-19, 25-20, 25-23 victory at Durant.
The Hurricanes were in complete control. Durant (21-8) never led in Games 1 and 3, and on only four occasions in the middle game did the Cougars lead — each time by just one point.
"We did a good job of playing to our strengths," Rogers said. "We set well and we hit well, especially in big situations. (I want the team to have) clear minds, because when you get too excited, then you try to do too much. My biggest thing with the team is play within yourselves, just do your job, don’t try to do anymore more or anything less."
PHU will play Tuesday against the Naples Gulf Coast-Venice winner.
Junior Emma Strong, who ended the first and third games with kills, led the Hurricanes with 16 kills.
"I looked for shots on the court placement-wise (deep baseline and sharp angles), rather than hitting it down every time," Strong said. "We all definitely worked really well together."
PHU, whose only previous trip to the finals in 12 previous regionals came in 2010 when the Hurricanes lost a three-game match to eventual state champion Winter Park, had 44 total kills. Julia Angelo had 21 digs for PHU, and Abby Strong contributed 37 assists.
Part of Rogers’ plan was to keep the ball away from Durant’s Charyari Ramos. She finished with eight kills, three less than team leader Emma Rustenberghe.
"We heard about No. 11 (Ramos), so we tried to limit her opportunities," Rogers said. "We did a good job."
Durant coach Brittany Wade said she knew PHU was good, but one thing impressed her.
"This far in the game, everybody has one stud or two studs — their No. 10 (Annamarie Huy and No. 23 (Strong) are amazing," Wade said. "But as a team, they made no errors. The game of volleyball is about errors. Every point, (PHU) was just always coming back.
"I can’t say nothing went my way. I just feel so blessed to be here and be able to coach these girls. I learned how special these girls are. … They’re fighters."
6A: Clearwater swept
CLEARWATER — For much of Game 1, Clearwater matched Charlotte serve for serve, kill for kill. But near the end, the Tarpons’ front line began to wear out the Tornadoes. Charlotte scored six of the final seven points in Game 1 and never lost the momentum in a 25-19, 25-11, 25-18 sweep.
"That is the best team we’ve faced all season," Clearwater coach Katy Rice said. "Unfortunately we haven’t seen those kind of hitters all season. They were very good at hitting it where our defense needed to be. It’s hard to simulate that kind of team in practice."
Clearwater (18-11) matched Charlotte (21-3) from the beginning and held a 16-14 lead in the first game. Rachel Pohl, Carly Daniel, Hannah Sanders and Cheyann Williamson all played well at the net. Charlotte went on a 4-0 run to take an 18-16 lead. The teams then traded kills and after a Williamson kill, Clearwater cut the lead to 19-18.
Then the Tarpons turned up the heat at the net and got three kills and a block to in the final stretch to put the game away.
The second game did not start as well for Clearwater. Charlotte jumped out to an 8-2 lead and after a 6-0 run it led 17-4. Clearwater never scored more than two straight points in the game and eased to a 2-0 lead.
"In that situation we have to get tough between the ears," Rice said. "That team picks on whoever may be struggling and they go for it. They were thirsty, out for blood. That’s how I want my players to be."
Clearwater hung in early in the third game. The Tornadoes scored four straight points, thanks to an ace and kill from Daniel, and took a 7-6 lead. But Charlotte kept hammering away at the net and got five straight points to take a 17-13 lead.
The match ended when a Clearwater kill attempt was blocked.
This is the first time Clearwater has played Charlotte since 1999, when the Tornadoes won in the region semifs. Rice was a member of the that Clearwater team.
"I was hoping to get my second win against them,” Rice said.
5A: Dunedin rallied from two games down to take Naples Lely to five before losing 25-14, 25-18, 23-25, 16-25, 15-12. The final point in the fifth game came on a rotation violation by Dunedin (13-8).
"They said my setter moved too quickly on the serve," Dunedin coach Kassy Will said. "I’ve never seen a game end that way."
Will said she didn’t expect the match to go five games, especially the way things started.
"We were a little intimidated watching them warm up," Will said. "I don’t have any club players. After the season, they go play other sports. When you get to this level, you are playing teams with all club players. But once our girls settled down and started having fun, we started playing well. I’ve never seen my team play that well."
Will said Olivia Welsh was once again a stand out. She had nearly 20 kills and played well in the back.
3A: Carrollwood Day (24-2) keeps rolling, dispatching Calvary Christian 25-19, 25-16, 25-14.
Staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report.