When North Bay Haven knocked off Pensacola 3-0 in last week’s District 1-4A final, it was the first time in five years that the Buccaneers got to hoist a district championship trophy.
If they win against South Walton in Thursday’s Region 1-4A quarterfinal, they’ll get to do something for the first time period: celebrate a playoff victory.
The Bucccaneers (19-7) host the Seahawks (16-9) at 7 p.m. to open the 4A playoffs, while three other Bay County teams begin postseason play this week as well.
Arnold (18-8) and Mosley (15-11) begin their playoffs Wednesday on the road, with the Marlins playing at Wakulla (16-9) and the Dolphins at Ridgeview (18-5).
Bozeman (12-6) is the only other county team to host its playoff opener, with the Bucks welcoming in Blountstown (12-13) on Thursday night at 6 p.m.
This will be the third time for North Bay Haven reaching the regional playoffs in program history, though to this point the Bucs have not been able to advance any further.
For a team that didn’t even get to play in the district tournament last year after having to cancel its season due to Hurricane Michael, just being in this position is pretty special.
"The girls were excited about having that opportunity to win the district championship that they didn’t get to last year," Buccaneers coach Fred Corbin said Tuesday. "They were excited going in and when they won it just validated all the hard work they put in over the last year.
"They were glad to win it, but now their focus is on the regional playoffs and seeing how far they can go."
They’ll first have to go through a South Walton team that they split with during the regular season, with each winning in four sets on the other’s home floor.
South Walton had won eight matches in a row before getting upset by Pensacola in the district semifinals.
That kind of unpredictability shouldn’t be wholly unexpected for a young Seahawks team with only one senior.
That senior is 5-foot-11 Evelyn Harrison, who leads the team with 296 assists and 54 ace serves.
Six-foot-1 junior Hannah Haerer is the top hitter for the Seahawks with 189 kills along with a team-high 22 blocks.
"(South Walton coach) Meaghan (Allen) has a good team, they’re just a little young and inexperienced, but they’re very competitive," Corbin said. "The majority of her kids play high level club ball, so they’re experienced in playing big games.
"I’m sure they’ll be very focused and trying to come in here and fully go to battle with us to try to remind us that they should’ve been in the (district) championship game and not Pensacola."
The Buccaneers have battled inconsistency as well this season, starting the year off 10-0 before hitting a mid-season rut that featured five losses in eight outings.
The turning point, according to Corbin, came after a four-set tri-match loss to Taylor County (Ky.) on Oct. 8 at Mosley.
"Our girls came in and they failed to show up and focus and they weren’t prepared to play and as a result they got embarrassed," Corbin said. "We had a long, emotional talk about coming in and being prepared because the season could end at any given moment once you get in the playoffs.
"The biggest thing we talked about was our four seniors, how we don’t want to end our season playing a game the way we played against Taylor County and have that be their last memory playing here. Since then they have shown up ready to play, been more focused, more consistent, had more attention to detail, and as a result we’ve pretty much buzzsaw’d through the remaining schedule and the district tournament."