PONTE VEDRA BEACH — A stellar season ended with a sour taste for the Port Charlotte volleyball team, which was making its first trip to the final four since 1988.
Unable to quell the hitting of Ponte Vedra’s tall front line in a 3-0 loss, the Lady Pirates’ season came to an end on Saturday, one game shy of their goal.
Port Charlotte came into the game knowing the Lady Sharks’ front line was going to be a problem. Ponte Vedra’s roster features seven players who stand 5-foot-10 or taller. The Lady Pirates have two, one of which went down early in the first set and didn’t return.
With that strong presence at the net, the Lady Sharks (24-6) were able to jump out to a 12-3 lead in the first set, eventually taking it 25-19 despite Port Charlotte surging to nearly tie it late.
“It’s hard when you only have two really tall middles and one goes down,” coach Christine Burkhart said. “We struggled with getting a block up and then the back row is a fish out of water. We tried to read the hitters and do some different things, but the defense wasn’t able to execute as well as we normally have.”
Port Charlotte was able to keep things close, scoring four straight times to pull within three points in the second set, but allowed a late 9-3 run, falling 25-15.
That forced a win-or-go-home third set.
Like they had the previous two sets, the Lady Sharks opened with an early lead. But the resilient Lady Pirates continued to fight back, cutting the deficit to 10-9.
Even when Ponte Vedra gained match point at 24-15, Port Charlotte wouldn’t go away. The Lady Pirates scored six straight points in hopes of extending their season, but fell just short in a 25-21 set three loss.
Azyah Dailey led with 14 kills, Laticia Nina had seven digs and Alicia Kowalski and Zoe Burkhart tied with two aces a piece.
The loss ended a strong run for the Lady Pirates, who broke a streak of losing in the regional final where their season had ended each of the past two years. They finish with a 17-13 record with all but two players returning next year.
Still, as Ponte Vedra partook in a postgame celebration, the loss stung for the Lady Pirates.
“At the end of the day, we broke a streak of not getting into the final four since 1988,” Burkhart said. “If you look at it as a whole, these girls made their mark on Pirate volleyball. Our girls came back and fought that entire time, that’s just the character of the girls and who they are.”