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Volleyball: Region final wrap-up

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Class 7A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 7A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Plant 3, Vero Beach 1

Slow starts have been common for the Panthers this season. 

In September, they lost four of five matches during a rough stretch. In the region semifinals, they lost the opening set to rival Steinbrenner. 

Each time, Plant showed its resolve.

The Panthers rebounded from their mid-season struggles by turning it on when it mattered most. After losing the opening set to the Warriors early last week, Plant won the next three sets to move on to the next round. 

In Saturday’s region final, the Panthers found themselves in another hole after losing the first set to Vero Beach. 

Once again, Plant stormed back.

The Panthers took care of the next three sets to win 19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-16.   

For the fifth time in the past six seasons, the Panthers advanced to the state semifinals. They will host Lake Nona on Saturday with the chance to reach the final for the first time since 2018. 

Class 6A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 6A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

St. Petersburg 3, Ocala Forest 1

The Green Devils’ season of superlatives continues. 

After advancing to the region final for the first time earlier in the week, St. Petersburg followed that up by beating previously undefeated Ocala Forest 25-23, 25-22, 20-25, 27-25 to reach the state semifinals.

The Wildcats were dominant in compiling a perfect record entering Saturday’s match. After all, they had only lost one set all season. 

That changed quickly.

From the start, the Green Devils took control, winning the first two sets. Even when St. Petersburg fell in the third set, there was no panic. That was due in large part to being tested in closely contested matches. 

The Green Devils outlasted rival East Lake in a region semifinal in which the first four sets were all decided by two points. 

So after losing a set on Saturday, St. Petersburg was able to regain momentum to win.

Madelyn Davis had 10 kills, nine blocks and five digs to lead the Green Devils. Others who played well include Jordan Bunce (15 digs and 13 kills), Livvi Harting (44 digs) and Nicole Robison (52 assists). 

Fort Myers 3, Hillsborough 0

The Terriers’ dream season ended. 

Hillsborough, which was playing in the region final for the first time, was swept by the Green Wave 25-16, 25-17, 25-12. 

Fort Myers was used to being in this position. This season was the Green Wave’s 22nd straight in the playoffs, a streak that ranks among the top 10 in the state. 

This time, they got past an elusive obstacle by reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 2015.  

Class 5A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 5A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Robinson 3, Port Charlotte 1

After a two-year absence, the Knights are back in the state semifinals.

Robinson made it by going on the road to knock off Port Charlotte in the region final 21-25, 26-24, 25-14, 25-17. 

Mila Yarich, a Yale commit, set the tone for the Knights with her play at the net.  

Ocala Vanguard 3, Fivay 1

The Falcons, who were in the region final for the third time in the past four seasons, were trying to take the next step by advancing to the state semifinals for the first time. 

To do that, Fivay had to get past the Knights, who won a state title in 2018 and reached the final last season. 

The experience in those big game matches showed. 

Vanguard made it back to the final four by cruising to a 25-16, 25-19, 25-13 win. 

Class 4A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 4A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Academy of the Holy Names  3, Weeki Wachee 0

After losing in the state semifinals last season, the Jaguars were motivated to get back. 

They did just that, sweeping previously undefeated Weeki Wachee 25-14, 25-21, 25-13 in the region final. 

But Academy of the Holy Names does not have that just-happy-to-be here mentality. 

This time, the Jaguars want to win it all. 

They certainly looked like a state championship team on Saturday. Campbell Halme (12 kills) and Kensley Warbritton (10 kills) led the attack on offense. 

When the Hornets tried spiking the ball, Halme and Camryn McClendon (combined eight blocks) were there to reject those shots. And Janessa Bailey set everything up with a team-high 33 assists.  

Class 3A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 3A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Bishop McLaughlin 3, Sarasota Cardinal Mooney 1

To reach the state semifinals for the second time in the past three seasons, the Hurricanes had to get past their biggest nemesis. 

Twice in the past two seasons, Bishop McLaughlin was swept by the Cougars, including last year’s region semifinals. 

The Hurricanes were not going to let that happen again. 

Led by a balanced — and efficient — attack, Bishop McLaughlin overcame their biggest obstacle to a potential state title by knocking off the defending champions 25-15, 21-25, 25-12, 25-19.

Audrey Koenig, an FSU commit, had 20 kills and Maddie Snider added 19 to lead the offense. Ezzie Thompson came up big at the net, blocking six shots. And Naomi Chinchar contributed with a team-high 40 assists. 

Class 3A, Region 2 was perhaps the toughest in the state. After all, five of the top 10 teams in 3A belonged to that region. 

After getting past the most difficult part of the bracket, the Hurricanes, ranked No. 1 overall in the state by MaxPreps and ninth nationally by MaxPreps, are well-positioned to win their first state title in school history. 

Only two steps remain.

The first comes Saturday when Bishop McLaughlin hosts Ocala Trinity Catholic, ranked 12th in 3A, in the state semifinals. 

Class 2A

2020 FHSAA Volleyball State Championships 2A FHSAA Girls Volleyball

Naples First Baptist Academy 3, Tampa Bay HEAT 0

The HEAT, which was trying to reach the state semifinals for the third time in the past five seasons, fell short of their goal, losing 25-12, 25-11, 25-12. 

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General

FHSAA releases softball class and district assignments

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The Florida High School Athletic Association released the classifications, districts and regions for softball this coming season. The assignments are based on student enrollment numbers from October 2020. This is a one-year cycle that the FHSAA board of directors voted on earlier this year. There likely will be a two-year cycle starting with the 2022-23 calendar year. Below is the list for area teams. For the full  boys softball list click here.

Class 7A, District 6

Durant

Newsome

Plant City

Riverview

Class 7A, District 7

Alonso

East Lake

Steinbrenner

Palm Harbor University

Plant

Class 6A, District 5

Gaither

Land O’ Lakes

Largo

Leto

Mitchell

Sickles

Class 6A, District 6

Armwood

Strawberry Crest

Tampa Bay Tech

Wharton

Wiregrass Ranch

Class 6A, District 7

Bloomingdale

Bradenton Manatee

Lennard

Palmetto

Class 5A, District 5

Fivay

Lecanto

River Ridge

Springstead

Sunlake

Class 5A, District 6

Auburndale

Groveland South Lake

Lakeland Kathleen

Pasco

Class 5A, District 9

Blake

Freedom

Hillsborough

Jefferson

King

Class 5A, District 10

Countryside

Osceola

Pinellas Park

Seminole

Class 5A, District 11

Boca Ciega

Hollins

Northeast

St. Petersburg

Class 5A, District 12

Braden River

Bradenton Southeast

Brandon

East Bay

Spoto

Class 4A, District 9

Cypress Creek

Hudson

Nature Coast

Wesley Chapel

Zephyrhills

Class 4A, District 10

Anclote

Clearwater

Dunedin

Gulf 

Tarpon Springs

Class 4A, District 11

Chamberlain

Lake Region

Middleton

Mulberry

Robinson

Class 3A, District 6

Central

Hernando

South Sumter

Weeki Wachee

Class 3A, District 9

Academy of the Holy Names

Berkeley Prep

Brooks DeBartolo

Lakeland McKeel

Tampa Catholic

Class 3A, District 11

Calvary Christian

Clearwater Central Catholic

Lakewood

Parrish

Sarasota Cardinal Mooney

Class 2A, District 6

Bishop McLaughlin

Hernando Christian

Mount Dora Christian

Ocala Trinity Catholic

Seven Rivers Christian

Class 2A, District 9

Academy at the Lakes

Cambridge Christian

Carrollwood Day

Foundation Christian

Lakeside Christian

Seffner Christian

Class 2A, District 10

Admiral Farragut

Canterbury

Indian Rocks Christian

Northside Christian

Shorecrest

St. Petersburg Catholic

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General

Former Largo and Illinois standout Bobby Roundtree dies

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Bobby Roundtree, the former Largo High and Illinois standout defensive lineman who became an inspiration for many by vowing to walk again after suffering a spinal cord injury, died Friday afternoon, the family confirmed. He was 23. 

No other details were provided. 

A candlelight vigil will be held Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Ridgecrest YMCA. Those in attendance are encouraged to wear their 97Strong apparel.

Roundtree’s death came two weeks after he received the Bruce Capel Award for Courage, an honor given annually by the Illinois football program. 

Less than 24 hours ago before he passed, Roundtree posted a message on his Twitter page.

More than two years ago, Rountree was in a hospital bed, the result of a swimming accident near the docks off John’s Pass that required spinal cord surgery. It left him in a wheelchair. 

Before the accident, the goals were all related to football. A former two-sport star, Roundtree developed into a ferocious pass-rusher, first at Largo, then at Illinois. As a sophomore in 2018, he won the Dick Butkus Outstanding Defensive Player award after leading the Illini in tackles for loss (12.5), sacks (7.5) and pass breakups (7). His play made him a viable NFL draft pick.

Photos courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Since then, the ambitions have been different. 

Roundtree wanted to be independent. He wanted to travel. He wanted to coach, maybe even start his own rehabilitation center. 

Most of all, he wanted to walk again. 

“I just want to show everybody that anything’s possible,” Roundtree recently said last year in his first interview (via Zoom) with reporters since the accident. “You can be on top of the world and something happens, things might not go as planned, but there’s something out there for everybody.

“This injury isn’t going to overcome me. I’m going to beat this and be successful.”

After the accident, once the surgery was over, Roundtree woke up to machines beeping in every corner of the room. His mother, Jacqueline Hearns, kept saying he was special, that he was beating the odds. 

Friends and teammates were there, too, including former East Lake standout Jake Hansen, now a starting linebacker with the Illini. 

The coaching staff also came to the Tampa Bay area to be by Roundtree’s side. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith practically lived at the hospital, even while preparing for the 2019 season. 

The bond between the player and coach has always been strong. After all, Roundtree was one of the marquee names in Smith’s first recruiting classes. 

“Everything that Lovie said during the recruiting process, about being a family, he stuck by,” Packers coach Marcus Paschal said last year. “You could see it during Bobby’s injury and hospital stay. I don’t know of too many other college coaches who would have done what he did. That was big.”

In June of 2019, Rountree was transported to a rehabilitation center in Chicago. He had lost 70 pounds. He could barely raise his right hand, much less do push ups, after the surgery. 

Roundtree ignored conservative prescriptions for recovery, continuingly defying odds. Before long, he was manually pushing himself in a wheelchair. His triceps muscles were developing.

None of this came as a surprise to Jeremy Busch, the head athletic trainer for Illinois football. 

“After this injury you watched a person that eventually was at the worst point in his life, and yet he doesn’t acknowledge that to where it beats him, but he acknowledges it to motivate him,” Busch said last year of Roundtree. “He’s truly your idea of hope and inspiration on a daily basis. He’s gone from the simplest of struggles to absolutely overcoming everything that you put in front of him.”

Roundtree also was determined not to stay in football exile. He kept in contact with teammates. The coaching staff included him in meetings, virtually. 

The grit Roundtree showed through the grueling stages gave the Illini inspiration. A sign was displayed on the top of a tunnel that the players would touch before heading out to Memorial Stadium. It read: 97 Strong (referring to Roundtree’s number).

Illinois became the feel-good team of college football in 2019. The wins kept coming, often in dramatic ways. 

A field goal as time expired was the difference when the Illini handed the Badgers, ranked No. 6 at the time, their first loss in October of last season. It was the Illini’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2011. Afterward, Illinois players recorded videos of their celebration and sent them to Roundtree.

Three weeks later, the Illini rallied from a 21-point third quarter deficit to beat Michigan State 37-34. 

“I would do anything for the kid,” Hansen said last year of Roundtree. “He’s been a huge inspiration.”

Roundtree attended the 2019 regular season finale, his first game at Memorial Stadium since the injury. He led the team in a pregame prayer. 

And Roundtree remained part of the team. His locker was untouched. 

“Having the team I have now I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Roundtree said last year. “They’ve been very supportive. They know I’m going to work. I know they’re going to work. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

The Illini faithful have shown financial support, too, pledging money to help offset some of Roundtree’s medical expenses. 

“With everybody so behind me and pushing me, that makes me want to go harder,” Roundtree said last year. “The support of everybody fundraising and everybody donating that means a lot having that support. I don’t have a million dollars to help me through this all. People are giving their last pennies to help me out. That’s just a lot of love right there, and I appreciate everybody for that.”

Roundtree spent the past year at home in Largo rehabilitating. He kept posting video messages of his progress. He bench pressed. He did core work. He rolled on to his side, even tried to stand up with the aid of athletic trainers.  

The final steps Roundtree wanted to take were on his own. 

“When somebody tells me I can’t do something I’m going to prove them wrong and show that I’ll be able to do it,” Roundtree said last year. “It might take me a couple of tries, but I’m going to do it.

“I want to show everybody that anything is possible, no matter the situation.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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