Though his team trailed by one game, Estero High coach Barry Harris was confident heading into game four against Naples. That's because the Wildcats were 7-0 in game fours this season.
"I told them we haven't lost the fourth game all year. Well, this was our first," said Harris after his team's season ended with a 25-11, 18-25, 25-16, 25-13 loss against the host Golden Eagles in a Class 4A regional quarterfinal on Tuesday night.
"We were nervous coming in here, seeing all these (former athletes' pictures) on the wall," said Wildcat senior Brittany Kopp. "In game two we stepped it up and we weren't nervous anymore. We played like we should play, but after that we didn't."
The match had been pushed back due to Hurricane Wilma, but the delay didn't hamper Naples senior Audra Bryan, whose 21 kills brought her school record to 320.
The only blip on an otherwise impressive night for the Eagles (15-7) came in game two.
"I think if this match happened last week we may have won in three," said Naples coach Rich Hubbard. "Game two we fell apart passing-wise."
After dropping game one, Estero led all of game two. They jumped out to a 12-5 lead before Naples came back to within one point. But Courtney Wasko had three aces and Megan Morgan notched a key block late in the game to help Estero to its only win.
Naples snatched back momentum for the rest of the match as Estero struggled.
"We got the energy up and we kept going and then we couldn't get it up again," said Estero junior Michelle Hampel. "We were getting upset with each other. Nothing went right for us."
Game three was tied 8-8 before the Golden Eagles won 13 of the next 16 points behind kills from Bryan, Bridget Kennedy and Ashley Delk. Kennedy finished with a game high 33 assists.
Naples was never threatened in game four, building leads of 11-4 and 20-11 before winning by a dozen.
"It's disappointing because we didn't play as well as we could have," said Harris. "I was glad we came back in the second game and played well."
Wasko led the Wildcats with 20 service points.
Estero finishes 18-7, quite a turnaround from its 7-9 campaign in 2004.
"Compared to last year, I think we did amazing," said Kopp.
"We got along real well for most of the season," added Hampel. "We played real good together. It all came together."
The highlight of the Wildcats season was likely their comeback victory against Lemon Bay in the district tournament. Estero staved off three match points in game four and advanced to the final, where they lost to LaBelle.
"I'm very happy with the way we ended up," said Harris.
The loss against Naples marked the final game for seniors Kopp, Aimee Wilkison and Katie Kittinger.
With an 18 win season under their belt and advancing as far as they did, Estero will be looking for even brighter days in 2006 with players such as Wasko, Hampel, Morgan, Brittany Harris, Carla Wheeler and Brittany Nichols coming back.
"I expect us to have a good core coming back next year," said coach Harris. "I expect us to really springboard into a strong year next year."