The dream of making the school’s first Final Four appearance in volleyball ended on Tuesday night, as the St. Cloud Bulldogs won the first two sets, but came up an excruciating three points short in a 22-25, 13-25, 25-15, 25-14, 15-12 loss to state-power Winter Springs in the Class 6A, Region 2 Finals.
The Lady Bulldogs saw their season end with a 21-5 record.
“After winning the first two games, this is a really tough one to swallow,” Lady Bulldogs Head Coach Ettie Singleton said. “The bottom line is that after the second game, we got totally away from our offense. We made too many unforced errors and our third touches were terrible.”
Things would start out on a positive note for the Lady Bulldogs.
Trailing 11-10, it was Winter Springs that would make several unforced errors as it fell behind 18-15. From that point, the Bears would never get closer than within two points for the remainder of the game. An Abbie Tutor spike gave St. Cloud a 24-18 lead, and even though the Bears fought off four game points, a Winter Springs return went long to give St. Cloud a 25-22 win in Game 1.
It was more of the same in Game 2. With the scored tied 5-5, the Lady Bulldogs went on an 11-2 run to grab a 16-7 lead and cruise to a 12-point victory and two games to none lead.
But after taking a 3-0 lead in Game 3, things would quickly go south for St. Cloud.
On consecutive plays midway through that game, St. Cloud would let a ball fall between two players, who failed to communicate on the return, had a double hit, allowed a second touch to fall short into the net, hit a return out of bounds, and had two spike attempts fall into the net. Those errors led to seven consecutive points for Winter Springs, as it grabbed a 16-9 lead. Similar mistakes later in the game led to a 7-1 run, as the Bears won the third game by 10, 25-15.
Winter Springs never trailed in the fourth game. It easily won again by a 25-15 count to set up a fifth and deciding set, which under FHSAA rules is a “Race to 15 points”.
St. Cloud would play better at the start of the fifth game, tying the set at 7-7 on a Jazmin Santiago spike. But some strong play by outside hitter Hope Matschner (3 kills) gave Winter Springs a 14-8 lead. The Lady Bulldogs would gamely fight off four match points to cut the lead to 14-12, but St. Cloud failed to return Matschner’s thunderous spike, and Winter Park (20-10) closed out the match, 15-12. Matschner finished the contest with a match-high 25 kills.
“Winter Springs played the better match and deserved to advance,” Singleton said. “But the bottom line is we sort of beat ourselves tonight. Despite the loss and the way we played in the last three games, we had a great season. We have a young team and hopefully we will learn and grow from this match. “
The Lady Bulldogs return almost their entire team next year, with Abie Tutor being the lone senior on this year’s squad.