TAMPA - Avon Park played tough against Academy of the Holy Names on Tuesday night, but the Jaguars simply wore down the Red Devils thanks to their deeper lineup, taking the Class 4A-Region 3 quarterfinals match in straight sets by scores of 25-19, 25-19, and 25-22.
"I'm very proud my girls," said Avon Park coach Shane Wirries. "I'm proud of how they came up. I'm proud of where the program's going. I'm just proud of them - they came out and played really hard."
In the first set, the Devils (12-6) appeared as if they were still trying to find their rhythm in an unfamiliar gym. Playing inside the tight confines of the Jaguars (16-12) facility, Avon Park battled with Holy Names to an early 4-4 standstill.
But the Jaguars would eventually pull away and take an 18-9 lead. The Devils fought their way back in late, reeling off three straight points, but it wasn't enough to overcome the early deficit.
Avon Park was on fire in the second set. Jumping out to a 4-1 lead, the Devils were playing as if they were back at home. Marina Torres was smashing kill shots into the hardwood. Harley Huntzinger and Brianna Rogue were rerouting Jaguars spikes. And Aaliya Eastburn, Maria Taturis, and Alexis Williams were communicating well in the back court.
Battling through three ties and two lead changes, both squads found themselves knotted at 16 midway through the set. Torres gave the Devils a one-point lead after a vicious spike, but Holy Names' Courtney Vogler tied it up on the next play with a kill of her own.
But with a deeper bench, comes fresher bodies. And Jaguars coach Jeff Davis was able to feed the Devils a healthy dose of new players, as Holy Names went on a 3-0 run to go up 20-17. An Avon Park time out did little to stem the run, as the Jaguars rolled off two more points to take a decisive five-point lead.
The Devils caught a break when a bad spike went into the net, but Holy Names quickly recovered to score three straight points to close out the set.
Gassed going into what would be the final set of the night, Avon Park found itself down 6-1 early to Holy Names. Undeterred, the Devils rallied to cut the score to 9-8 on the strength of a handful of solid blocks from Huntzinger and Rogue.
Back-to-back kills from Vogler gave the Jaguars some breathing room, sparking an 10-1 run to put Holy Names up 19-9.
But there's one word the Devils don't have in their vocabulary, and that's quit - and they responded with an 8-2 run of their own to cut the score to 22-17.
Following two marathon rallies, the Devils found themselves down just two points, trailing 24-22.
It was as close as they would get to winning a set though, as Vogler reemerged with a handful of powerful kill shots to put the match away.
Despite the tough loss and Avon Park's season coming to an end, Wirries noted that he's been proud of how his girls handled themselves during the game as well as during the year.
"I might not know as much as these other coaches, but I know how to coach kids," Wirries said. "I've tried real hard to keep things positives. And I think the girls were a great of example of that, tonight and this season."
Wirries also added that he hopes some of the girls who will be returning to the team next year will play some club ball during the offeseason.
"We've got a good foundation at the middle school," he said. "And if we can add in some club ball with these girls over the summer, then we can only go up from here."