By Jeff Odom
The Steinbrenner volleyball team was swept at home for the first time in two years, but that didn’t stop first-year coach Laura Stegenga from smiling.
The Warriors (19-9) fell 25-12, 25-11, 25-16 against Venice in the Class 7A regional finals Nov. 10, ending their season one match shy of the state tournament.
It was Steinbrenner’s first trip to the regional finals in the program’s four-year history after being knocked off in the semis the previous two seasons.
“I’m just extremely proud of them, and that’s what I told them in the huddle,” Stegenga said. “I said to them, ‘You have never gotten this far and it’s going to take more than one time getting here to just be able to pull it out like that.”
The Indians (26-3) dominated the first set without trailing. Steinbrenner was no match for their offense, giving up 19 points before taking back-to-back points.
The Warriors kept it closer early in the second thanks to senior outside hitter Madison Seuzeneau (12 kills) before Venice pulled away with 11 of the final 12 points.
Stegenga said there was some nervousness, especially facing a team like Venice.
“There were those first-game jitters, absolutely,” Stegenga said. “In the second game, they started pulling it together.”
The Warriors’ best shot at winning a set came in the third. They got off to a 6-4 lead, but Venice crept back in with three straight points.
Another five-point streak put Steinbrenner into a deep hole and the Indians closed it out by scoring eight of 10 to advance to states.
“The third game was the team that we’ve been working in practice,” Stegenga said. “I’ve got a young team. … We can only go up from here. They did a great job. I know there’s some tears out there, but I want them to be proud of themselves.”
To earn a berth in the regional finals, Steinbrenner won at Clearwater 27-25, 25-11, 25-14 Nov. 6, but it was not without drama.
The Tornadoes (21-8) pounced early in the first set against the Warriors, forcing Stegenga to call two key timeouts.
Stegenga said she promised her team doughnuts if it could find a way to win.
“I swear they’re just like kids, still,” Stegenga said. “Even at the competitive level they play, they still get excited about doughnuts.”
The small bribe paid off as Rachel Mathison (10 kills) and Seuzeneau (17 kills) led Steinbrenner to a come-from-behind victory, scoring seven of eight points and then the final two for the opening set.
“Our rotation was a little messed up in the beginning,” Mathison said. “We were like, ‘Oh no,’ but we just did what we know how to do and we just clicked and we were focused on finishing.”
That’s exactly what the Warriors did.
Steinbrenner dominate the second set and didn’t let up in the third.
The Warriors had scoring streaks of six, five and five points to finish off the Tornadoes, who ended Steinbrenner’s playoff run in 2011 with a five-set win in regional semis.
Seuzeneau, the only four-year varsity player on the squad, said it was remarkable to reach a goal four years in the making.
“It’s honestly incredible,” Seuzeneau said. “I’ve stepped back and watched us lose this game (before), and it was absolutely amazing to finally win.”
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