VENICE — It’s still just the first week of the high school volleyball season, but Thursday night’s match between Venice and Port Charlotte felt like a playoff game.

That is, except for the limited-capacity crowd.

But even the few hundred in attendance were rowdy enough to give Venice a spark in a three-set sweep (25-23, 25-22, 25-19) over the Pirates at the TeePee.

“I think Port Charlotte was feeling pretty good about themselves coming in, but the TeePee has a way of making people feel not-so-good when they leave,” Venice volleyball coach Brian Wheatley said. “On paper, Port Charlotte should beat us. But luckily, the game is not played on paper, it’s played on the court.”

Though the Indians won in a sweep, the match was anything but a blowout.

Venice (2-0) and Port Charlotte (2-1) battled back-and-forth for the entire first set before Indians middle hitter Paden Keller (team-high 12 kills) rattled off back-to-back kills to end the set.

Again in the second set, neither team could take much of a lead.

The Pirates’ top two players — Azyah Dailey and Alicia Kowalski — got in on the action, registering multiple kills each in the second set to keep pace with Venice. Dailey finished the match with a team-high 14 kills while Kowalski was next in line with seven.

Though Dailey and Kowalski helped keep it close, some untimely miscues gave Venice all it needed to pull away for a two-set advantage.

“We made a lot of errors in sets one and two,” Pirates coach Christine Burkhart said. “I kept telling them, ‘If we fix the errors, we’re OK.’ We had a lot of service errors.

“You just can’t do that against good teams. You have to tighten it up.”

Down two sets, Burkhart said her team didn’t display mental fortitude as it allowed the Indians to jump out to a 16-8 lead, putting the Pirates’ backs against the wall.

While the Pirates flashed their potential at times, they were unable to put it together for a full set to hang with Venice — something Burkhart hopes she can change by the time the real playoffs arrive.

“This was kind of our first real match of the season,” she said. “This whole weekend I said, ‘We’re gonna know where we’re at and what we need to fix. We have an idea of what we need to fix, but we just weren’t mentally strong tonight.”


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