KISSIMMEE -- St. Thomas Aquinas girls volleyball coach Lisa Zielinski was sure her teams attempt to win the Class 7A title would have to go through Venice and she was right.
Aquinas (23-3) defeated Lakelands George Jenkins 27-25, 25-21, 25-17 on Tuesday, rallying from behind in the first two sets before knocking off the Eagles (28-4) in a 7A semifinal.
Venice (28-3), ranked 25th nationally by MaxPreps, came back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Gainesville Buchholz in a five-set thriller to set up a highly anticipated final.
The Aquinas-Venice match, which will be played Wednesday at 6 p.m., is a rematch of the 2004 Class 5A state final, which Zielinskis Raiders won in five sets over coach Brian Wheatley and the Indians.
That was an incredible match, Zielinski said. I knew it was going to be Venice [again this year].
While Venice secured its berth in the final first, it looked for a while like it would be Aquinas that would fail to get there. The Raiders fell behind 22-17 in the first set and 19-17 in the second but rallied each time.
Aquinas had several stars on Tuesday. Nikki Lyons, a 6-1 sophomore outside hitter, had match-highs in kills (18) and hitting percentage (.295).
Setter Mackenzie Zielinski, a 5-7 junior setter and the coachs daughter, had a match-high 41 assists. And Ana Pedraza, a 5-6 senior libero who is being recruited by UNC-Asheville, had a match-high 27 digs.
Now Aquinas is one win away from its third state title and the first since it beat Venice in 04.
Aquinas and Venice have a friendly yet intense rivalry. Wheatley, the Venice coach, said he talks to Zielinski weekly, and the teams play each other in the regular season on an annual basis.
In Aquinas fifth match of this year, the Raiders lost to a visiting Venice 3-1.
That loss has been haunting us, Lisa Zielinski said of the only time this season that Aquinas has been beaten by a Florida school. We did not play well, and it was a reality check for us.
After that loss, Aquinas beat defending 7A state champion Martin County, defending 4A state champion Tampa Berkeley Prep, 2010 Class 4A champion Cardinal Gibbons and 2011 Class 3A runner-up Evangelical Christian.
Aquinas has four seniors who could be Division I signees, including Pedraza. The others are 5-8 setter Bridgette Villano, who has a partial scholarship to Tennessee; Allison Belanger, a 5-9 outside hitter who is being recruited by Radford; and Brooke Lyons, a 6-3 middle blocker who has committed to Appalachian State.
The four along with their younger teammates are happy theyre getting a rematch with Venice on Wednesday.
We were a little bit shaky last time we played [Venice], said Nikki Lyons, Brookes sister. I feel like this time weve watched film on them, and were ready for the competition.
• University School 6, Pace 0: Megan OToole and Katie Sadeghi each with a goal and an assist.
Gillian Newman fourth shutout. US 3-1-3.
• North Broward Prep 2, Pope 1: Kelsey Blow and Emma Dineen had one goal each. Adrianna Dubay and Christine Creighton had one assist each. NBP 4-1-1.
• Cardinal Gibbons 3, Coral Glades 2: Baylee Kennedy 2 goals. Abby Perry goal, 1 assist.
• Westminster Academy 0, Sagemont 0: Cody Grimm (WA) shutout.