KISSIMMEE -- The champions are still standing, and the top-ranked team is finished.
Orlando’s First Academy rallied to defeat Westminster Christian, 17-25, 25-23, 25-13, 25-20, Friday afternoon in a Class 3A state semifinal at Silver Spurs Arena.
First Academy (23-8) will attempt to win its fifth consecutive state title when it plays Gainesville’s St. Francis on Saturday.
Westminster (27-5), ranked No. 1 in the state in 3A, never trailed in the first set and led 19-15 and 20-17 in the second game. But First Academy took over from there.
“I think if I had the answer, we would have won it,” Westminster coach Julie Doan said when asked how FA changed the momentum. “They’re good. We did everything we thought we could, and it wasn’t enough.”
Westminster seemed ready to fold in the fourth set, but the Warriors – with libero Susie Forbes serving – put together a 7-0 run to take a 19-17 lead.
But, as Doan pointed out, there’s a reason the Royals are four-time champions. FA’s Brittany Smith, a 6-0 sophomore, had a match-high 21 kills and a match-best .405 hitting percentage.
FA setter Kali Funk, a three-time state champ and Delaware recruit, recovered after having been called for numerous double-hits and managed a match-high 38 assists.
“I’ve never seen that called so many times,” Funk said. “The ref was a stickler, and I didn’t agree with her calls.
“It was a personal battle for me because, as the setter, I’m supposed to be the encourager. I had to tell myself to let it go, worry about the next point. I made the adjustment, and in the third and fourth games, I wasn’t called, and I played great.”
Westminster outside hitter Sylvia Hernandez, considered one of the top five players in the state, led the Warriors with 19 kills. But she had a match-high 10 attack errors and .153 hitting percentage.
FA coach Lindsey Hurlebaus said her team had Hernandez scouted properly.
“We knew where she was going to swing,” Hurlebaus said. “She loves to go [down the] line, so we rotated that way. I believe we shut her down.”
Westminster had beaten FA twice earlier this season, but that’s when the Royals were battling injuries. Funk and libero Jordan Wilson-Talmade, a South Carolina recruit, missed the earlier battles against Westminster.
When it counted, the Royals proved to be too much, and the scary part is that they started an eighth-grader, a freshman and two sophomores along with three seniors Friday.
Westminster is young, too, though, with Hernandez among five juniors in the starting lineup. The others are Jenny Ceballos, Kelsey Taylor, Susie Forbes and Katerina Salgado.
Also set to return from the rotation are sophomores Courtney Clausell and Samantha Ceballos and junior Valentina Battistoni.
The only senior starter on the team was Michelle Melendez.
“The outcome I’m not happy with, of course, but I’m happy we got to state,” Hernandez said. “Hopefully, next year we come back strong, remember the last two years’ feeling, and take it.”