LECANTO — Jump out to an early lead, fight off a rally, pull away at the end. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Lecanto volleyball team led Crystal River by scores of 10-2, 7-1 and 8-3 Thursday night at home and went on to claim a 25-14, 25-16, 25-17 sweep over their county rivals.
“We talk about if you get that lead first and the momentum going your way, and if you do give up a few points, it’s not that big of a deal,” Lecanto head coach Wanda Grey said. “If you lose the momentum to begin with, sometimes it can be hard to get it back.
“It’s fun because a lot of the players know each other and a lot of the coaches know each other. We know it’s usually going to be a tough match and it’s nice to get those bragging rights if you can win.”
The Panthers improved to 12-11 on the season — including 2-0 against Crystal River — while the Pirates closed out a busy week with a 5-12 overall mark.
“I think my girls are tired. We played three games this week. They didn’t come in here with their heads right,” Crystal River head coach Leslie Richardson said. “So we are going to just take a rest and hopefully get back at it Monday. It was a long week.”
In what would be a big factor in the match, the Panthers jumped out early in the opening set thanks to strong serving. Up 3-2, Mackenzi Grey stepped up to the service line and served seven straight points — including a pair of aces — for a 10-2 advantage.
“She’s working hard on hitting spots. She sees the spots herself and she’s done a really good job with that,” coach Grey said.
The Pirates got three kills from Bailee Einspahr to close to within 11-8 and eventually made it a two-point Panther lead at 16-14.
But once again, Mackenzi Grey took over at serve. The junior tossed in two more aces to fuel a 9-0 run to end the opening set.
“Serving is the one thing you can control yourself. Volleyball is a game of mistakes. So serving is the one thing I feel if you work on and get consistent enough, you can really help your team individually,” Mackenzi Grey said.
It was a very similar story in the second set, as Mackenzi Grey served six straight points early on for a quick 7-1 lead. Einspahr, Phoebe Shaw and Riley Solomon were strong at the net for the Pirates to close the gap to 18-12, but aces by Lecanto’s Jaelynn Richardson and Kayla Negron helped build a 23-15 lead and Mallori Grey ripped an ace just over the net to close out the second set.
“We’ve been talking about serving tough and they did a great job with that tonight,” coach Grey said.
For the match, Lecanto had 13 aces, to none for the Pirates.
“They struggled getting it over the net and we also struggled receiving it,” Richardson said. “We really need to buckle down and get those two things back up to par.”
Mackenzi Grey had an early ace and kills from Mallori Grey and Mallory Mushlit made it 5-1 Lecanto early in the third set. The Pirates fought back to eventually knot the score at 12-all, but a kill and ace on back-to-back points by Lecanto’s Jaelynn Richardson made it a 17-14 score and the Pirates wouldn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
“I have a lot of friends on the other team that I’ve played with in club ball, so it’s really fun,” Mackenzi Grey said. “Especially with our student section. They have a lot of school spirit and they get it really exciting. So it’s really fun to beat the rivals.”
Mackenzi Grey finished with seven aces and a block, Mallori Grey had six kills and two aces, Kylee Desmond added four kills, while Mushlit, Jaelynn Richardson and Jaela Richardson had three kills each. Jaelynn Richardson also had a pair of blocks and two aces and Kayla Negron also had two aces.
Einspahr led the Pirates with six kills, while Kelsey Thomas, Brooke Bargiel and Solomon had two kills apiece.