Thursday, the nationally ranked Plant volleyball team will head to Chicago to compete in the Nike Challenge, a 24-team national volleyball tournament.
The Panthers (8-1), ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPN and No. 4 in the Century Club Top 100, will be the only team from Florida participating. A number of nationally ranked teams from Illinois, Utah, California, Wisconsin and Kansas also will participate.
"This is huge for us," Coach Leanna Taylor said. "We're definitely focused on winning. We're in the moment right now."
The team was invited in January but Taylor spent months getting approval from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
According to the 2007-08 FHSAA volleyball season manual, Bylaw 104.03 states an FHSAA school member may participate in a maximum field of 16 teams in out-of-state competition. Taylor sent letters to the FHSAA seeking approval and sought help from Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson, Brandon wrestling coach Russ Cozart and several volleyball coaches around the state who supported the program's opportunity. It had gotten to the point where Taylor was prepared to travel to Gainesville, the site of the FHSAA main office, to get approval.
Eventually, Plant was given the green light.
"Everyone is really pumped about it," senior outside hitter Danielle Erb said. "We'll see the best national teams there and we can prove ourselves."
"We'll be playing teams that don't play near us," junior outside hitter Maddie Martin said. "We can show everyone what we're made of. A lot of the out-of-state teams have never heard of us."
Speaking of making a name, members of the Plant team have been featured in a series of recent Beef O'Brady's commercials. Erb and Martin have teamed up for two solo spots in the ads.
"'Monday Night Football' and all of the Rays games, it came on," Erb said.
"We had to pretend like there was food in front of us," Martin said. "They did my makeup like I was 80 years old."
HOLY NAMES INVITATIONAL: Bradenton Manatee defeated Academy of the Holy Names in the semifinals and went on to beat Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in the final to win the Academy of the Holy Names Invitational during the weekend.
Mooney defeated Clearwater Central Catholic in the semis to advance. Holy Names (11-3) went 3-2, earning wins against Robinson, Land O' Lakes and Tampa Catholic, to finish third.
BERKELEY PREMIER ALL-TOURNEY TEAM: Casey Garvey, Paige Wessel and Kelsey Anderson (Mercy Academy); MVP Lindsay Young, Mackenzie Dagostino and Christina Theofilos (Berkeley Prep); Ali McCurdy and Danielle Erb (Plant); Christine Pinder (Gainesville Buchholz), Krissy Mussenden and Megan Gaughn (Lake Highland Prep); Lauren Busing (Johns Creek, Ga., Northview) and Dorothy Rahal (Venice).