The Bucs upset Seabreeze in the semifinals to advance to the district title game for the first time in 14 years.
Mainland High School is known for its football and basketball programs, both of which have provided the trophy case with state championship hardware.
The volleyball team has never even won a district championship. But it came so close on Thursday, Oct. 21.
Down two sets to Pine Ridge in the District 4-5A championship game at Seabreeze High School, the Bucs won the next two sets before losing 15-13 in the fifth and final frame.
“These kids played with a lot of heart and hustle,” coach Lauren Valle said.
Mainland beat No. 1 seed Seabreeze in four games in the semifinals Wednesday, Oct. 20, to advance to the district championship for the first time since 2007.
“We’re definitely trying to change the culture, not just being a school for football and basketball,” Valle said. “We’re not a team that relies on true volleyball players. We have tremendous athletes. We rely a lot on our basketball girls and our track girls.”
The Bucs, who fell to 13-10 with the loss, had played the top two district seeds, Seabreeze and Pine Ridge, close during the regular season.
“We definitely made big progress this year,” said senior Alexa Wilson, who led Mainland with 22 kills against the Panthers in the marathon match.
But despite taking the runner-up spot in the district, Mainland did not advance to the state playoffs. The four district champs and the next four highest-ranked teams in the region move on.
Seabreeze (19-7) took the final at-large spot and was scheduled to play Panama City Mosley in a regional quarterfinal match on Oct. 27.
“I’m proud of how we grew this season after starting 0-4,” Seabreeze coach Sara Swayze said of her squad, which has just one senior starter in outside hitter Chloe Womack.
The Bucs would have needed to win the district title to advance. After losing the first two sets by two-point margins, they rallied to win the next two, 25-20 and 25-22, to force a fifth set.
“It’s always been our mindset that we can’t give up when we’re down,” Wilson said. “We just decided to fight as hard as we could until it was over.”