Cardinal Gibbons sophomore outside hitter Corry Short couldn’t sleep in anticipation of Thursday night’s District 9 championship match against St. Thomas Aquinas.
During the regular season, the teams split a pair of games. The home team won each, with the Raiders victorious in the most recent on April 18.
The host Chiefs erased six-point deficits in both the third and fourth sets to defend their title in a 3-1 (25-19, 24-26, 25-22, 25-20) victory over the Raiders.
The outside hitting duo of senior Dylan Hall and Short combined for 42 kills, 15 digs, four assists and 16 service points.
“We’ve been really working on mental toughness and how to get back from making errors,” Gibbons coach Mike Zarate said. “My two outside hitters really step it up when we need them to step up. They’re taking the majority of the sets and lots of swings, passing the ball, blocking. They’re the key for us right now.”
When Aquinas (19-3) jumped out to a 5-4 lead in the first set, the Chiefs (20-2) scored five straight points and held an advantage throughout. Twice Aquinas pulled within one, but Gibbons closed out the set with an 8-3 run.
The Raiders evened the match in a back-and-forth second set. There were nine ties and seven lead changes. Facing a set point, the Raiders scored the next three for the win.
In both the third and fourth sets, the Chiefs fell behind 8-2, but slowly chipped away to tie it at 15. Gibbons outscored Aquinas 20-12 over the final 32 points of those two sets.
Junior setter Stefano Rivera collected 44 assists for the Raiders. Junior outside hitter Nicholas Rusk finished with 17 kills and five service points.
“We’ve had high expectations the entire season,” Short said. “The vibe of the season has been to stay mentally tough and stick through everything. This is the game we’ve been waiting for the entire year. We were looking forward to this game. We pulled through.”
• District 8 final — Douglas d. Taravella 25-14, 25-10, 25-23: After two routine sets to start the match, heavily-favored Douglas answered host Taravella’s final challenge to at least extend the contest.
Trailing 23-17 in set No. 3, Douglas, behind its 6-3 standout hitter Matt Archambault, went on a 9-0 run to end the match and capture the title with a 3-0 sweep at Taravella.
Archambault had three of his nine kills during the spurt while setter Jorge Rojas (20 assists) made two timely taps over the net to eliminate the Trojans, who finished at 13-4.
The Eagles (17-1) will next face the West Boca-Boca Raton winner in the first state play-in matchup on Tuesday.
“I think we got overconfident going into that third set,” Douglas coach Carla Nicholson said. “But it’s a good thing the hitters and setters know each other, know what the other likes, and got back to being consistent and winning the points we had to.”
Taravella’s Mariano Pennini brought the Trojans to within two points of stretching the match to a fourth set; he led the Trojans with 10 kills, six of them in the final set.
• District 16 final — Coral Reef d. Palmetto 26-24, 22-25, 25-20, 25-19: After about a decade, the Coral Reef boys’ volleyball team has won the District 16 Championship.