Led by a pair of sophomore hitters, the Out-of-Door Academy Thunder volleyball team defeated the Bradenton Christian School Panthers 22-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-14 Tuesday in a Class 3A-District 5 semifinal match. The win earns the Thunder a berth into their second district championship match in as many years.
ODA will now face Sarasota Christian School on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Sarasota Christian for the championship.
From the start, the match was a competitive battle, with multiple ties and lead changes throughout. In the first game, after 11 ties — the last at 21-21 — the Panthers closed out the set with an ace by senior Emily Eurice (28 assists, 10 digs, 7 kills).
Bradenton Christian coach Andrea Kneser worked to prepare her team mentally to come out strong from the beginning.
“We had a lot to work on since we played ODA last,” Kneser said. “It showed in the first game that we were mentally prepared.”
Heading into set two, a set featuring nine ties and several lead changes, the Thunder offense started to find their rhythm. Senior Adelaide Mahler, returning from an ankle injury 10 days ago, opened the second game up with one of her five kills on the night. Mahler hammered home her second kill of the evening to close out game two, 25-20.
“We have struggled to adjust defensively in the past. Luckily, we were able to minimize their attack in the middle and made the adjustment on their setter to help us win game two,” said Thunder head coach Stefanie Betz.
Tied at a game apiece, the Panthers and the Thunder continued the trend of close sets, this time with seven separate ties in set three. The Thunder pulled away on an error by the Panthers and a 23-17 lead. But the Panthers continued to claw their way back behind the serves of libero Mckenzie James (22 digs) closing to within 23-24. Sophie Fedder ripped a kill down the line though — one of her twelve on the evening — to close out the game and take a 2-1 lead overall.