Last time Riverview High met Plant City on the volleyball court, the Sharks were without their leader and key player, senior Sarah Burrington.
The 6-foot-4 middle hitter leads her team in kills and blocks, but her presence can't be measured in statistics. She is the leader of the Lady Sharks and was missed dearly early in the season due to illness when the team last met its upcoming district final opponent, Plant City. Losing three games to zero, coach Kristin Grosso saw her team melt down without Burrington to lead the charge.
"We've had a real roller coaster ride this year, and I feel like that game was a key moment that tested us," head coach Kristen Grosso said. "It was sheer panic becuase (Burrington) wasn't out there. It all collectively disintegrated out there. She is just a calming presence and a very special player. We're going to have a tough time next year without her."
That loss cost Riverview the top seed it hoped for and forced the team to be labeled No. 2 in a district tournament that they are hosting. Now Riverview and Plant City will meet in Thursday night's final, and the Sharks are seeking revenge with their leader back in action.
"She's a force to reckon with," Grosso said. "I feel she makes our team whole. Other teams want to go after her, she is the target. She knows that, and she is the aggressive leader that we need her to be. This time will be different."
Burrington was part of last year's team that brought home Riverview's first ever district volleyball title. Now she is targeting a run in the state tournament before heading off to Florida State University, where she will decide what she wants to study.
"I'm excited about going off to college because the coaches at FSU are excellent and the girls on the team seem really nice," Burrington said. "But I'm really going to miss this team. We never have any personal drama, and what makes us special is the energy that this team has. We have a good balance of competitiveness and having fun that will be hard to replace, so I really want to end this on a high note as we begin to play harder teams in the playoffs."
The Sharks faced Tampa Bay Tech in the district semifinal on Tuesday night, winning in three straight games. The first two portions of the contest were easily taken by Riverview, 25-12 and 25-10. The third game saw Tech fighting for its season and was a heated battle knotted at 17-17 when Burrington took over.
Finishing with 21 digs and 12 kills for the match, the senior standout made sure her team will get its chance at revenge against Plant City by finishing the match with the game winning block.
"We knew we'd have to dominate at the net (Tuesday night), and we've been polishing our defense," Burrington said. "We really want this second district title, and it will mean a lot to me personally because I want to finish at the top level in my senior year."