The Coral Reef volleyball team is as confident as ever. After making exits in regionals the past two seasons, the team envisions itself going even further.
“I can see the team going to states,” senior setter Daniela Leal said.
The Barracudas have reason to be self-assured. With a five-set victory against powerhouse Palmer Trinity last Friday, avenging an earlier loss to the Falcons, they have established themselves as one of the top contenders for the Class 8A title.
“That was a really sweet victory because Palmer has had such a great reputation over the years, and coming out of the first loss against them, we really wanted to prove that we could do better,” said Leal, who had 25 assists, 17 digs, five aces, six kills and five blocks that match. “We went in there with so much energy and played our hearts out, and we were the better team that day.”
Coral Reef (12-4) cruised Tuesday to a 25-7, 25-9, 25-10 win against district foe South Dade and will face another district rival, Palmetto, on Friday.
The Barracudas have already faced Palmetto once in 2012, winning in straight sets. It marked the first time Coral Reef beat the Panthers in coach Yasmin Ortiz’s five seasons at Coral Reef.
On top of unprecedented wins in program history, Ortiz watched her team blossom in the Lake Highland/Winter Park High School Showcase tournament the team attended in Orlando Sept. 14-15.
The Barracudas went into Orlando ranked 14th out of the 16 schools participating in the tournament’s Premier Division, but went 2-3 against elite competition from across the state. Against size and athleticism they had rarely seen before, they hung tight with every opponent, and that triggered a new mind-set in Ortiz’s players.
“Sometimes unless you see it, you can’t grasp it, and I think the moment they saw they were able to hang with everybody, it was like, ‘Wait a minute,’ ” Ortiz says. “It gave them the confidence that they needed.”
According to Ortiz, defense has been the key to her team’s success. Facing taller teams in Orlando, the Barracudas were forced to side-out effectively to compete.
“When you have people hitting over your block, the only thing that’s going to save you in the back line is the defense,” Ortiz said. “If the people back row don’t move their feet, you’re doomed.”
Libero Paulina Persson, who earned second-team All-Dade honors, has been instrumental with her defense. She racked up a team-high 25 digs in the win against Palmer.
Ortiz said the leadership Leal, her captain and 2011 first-team All-Dade recipient, has displayed since she joined the varsity team as a freshman has also helped the team.
After district games against Palmetto and Killian, Coral Reef will then participate in a tournament at Florida Christian Oct. 12-13 before hosting GMAC’s beginning Oct. 16.