CRESTVIEW — An eight-year playoff drought for the Crestview High School volleyball team came to an end Tuesday as the Bulldogs beat Fort Walton Beach 3-1 in the District 1-7A tournament semifinals.
The Bulldogs, who won by scores of 25-18, 16-25, 25-12, 25-19, will face Niceville in the tournament finals Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Crestview.
The Eagles advanced to the finals with a 3-0 win over Tate beating the Aggies 25-21, 25-17, 25-9.
When Kathy Combest accepted the job as the Crestview coach prior to the 2011 season she said she thought she could have the Bulldogs back in the playoffs in three or four years. Mission accomplished.
"I said if everything turned out in three or four years I could turn this program around," Combest said. "It means a lot because someone told me when I came over here that I would never turn these kids into winners because they aren't winners.
"When you tell me something like that I dig. Not only are you tell me my kids can't do it, but you are telling me I can't do it, so it made me work a little bit harder."
The hard work of Combest and her team paid off Tuesday night against the Vikings.
Neither team could take control of things early in the first set as the battled back-and-forth.
The Vikings (9-12) seemed to have an upper hand when the pushed the lead to 12-6, but the senior-deep Bulldogs made a steady climb back into the set.
Jasmine Middleton used one of her team-high 25 kills to tie the set at 13-13. Crestview (21-5) moved in front on a block by Nichole LeFevre and Cailey Ness.
The Vikings briefly regained the lead, but mistakes down the stretch proved to be their shortcoming as Crestview won the first set.
Fort Walton Beach came alive in the second set moving in front 9-8 and stretching out the lead for its only set of the match.
Crestview rebounded from the second set lull and quickly took a 8-0 lead in the third set on the way to the win.
It was more of the same in the fourth set. The Bulldogs moved in front 5-4 and pulled away with the win.
"It feels amazing we came a long way," Middleton said. "As a team we just had a turnaround about a week ago. We finally came together.
"We are meshing and talking. We are leaving everything on the floor and we just want to win district this year."
Kristen Bufkin, who had 11 digs for the Bulldogs said she was proud of the way the team has pulled together.
"It's just great for our team," she said. "That last game we just came together as a team and I think that it's just a great accomplishment for not only how far we've come as a team, but as a program."
Several Bulldogs had a big match. Brittany Pase had eight kills, three aces, two digs, two assists and one block.
Molly Kitchen had 22 assists to go along with three blocks, three kills and two digs. Macie Adams had 17 assists and three aces. And Molly Woodward had 15 digs and two aces.
Caroline Lathi led the Vikings with nine kills, 20 digs and seven aces. Madison Friedman had six kills and Alexis Creasman had three aces.
In the night's opening match Niceville's Kayla Henrie had 11 kills to power Niceville (17-6) to the win. Ashley Hagood added 13 assists and Tessa Morken had 22 digs.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.