When Mourning coach Dee Rey helped start the school’s boys’ volleyball program, the challenge was getting potential players to take the game seriously.
Four years later, athletes from different sports and ethnic backgrounds have helped the Sharks become sports pioneers for their young school.
Mourning will make its state debut Friday at 7 p.m. when it takes on defending state champion Orlando Bishop Moore in a state quarterfinal at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
With their victory over Hollywood Chaminade on Tuesday night, the Sharks (18-5) became the first program at the 4-year-old North Miami school to advance to a state tournament in a team sport.
“This means a lot because I’ve watched this team grow and evolve,” Rey said. “These guys have developed the ambition and committed themselves to be better.”
Senior French-born outside/middle hitter Werner Sabban and senior setter Eric Paulsen are the two remaining members of Mourning’s inaugural team. They played through the Sharks’ first three seasons that each came up short in the district championship round.
But this season, Mourning finally broke through and won the school’s first district crown.
The difference, according to Rey, is club volleyball participation.
“When we started, none of our guys played club, and a lot of them learned how to play the game after they joined the team,” Rey said.
Sabban, who is 6-3 and has 182 kills and 139 digs, switched from middle to outside this season and has flourished.
Matheus Mera, a 6-4 junior, is primarily a soccer player at the school. Mera, a second-team All-Dade selection in soccer, has competed in Olympic developmental events.
But he has also become an accomplished outside hitter, totaling 121 kills and 164 assists.
Junior 6-0 outside hitter Daniel Barrera, a member of the Colombian junior national team, has 109 kills and 116 digs this season.
The Sharks got a glimpse of the obstacle that awaits them Friday in a tournament match earlier this season in Orlando. Bishop Moore has won two of the past three state championships, defeating Miami Sunset in the final last season, and is led by 6-3 senior outside hitter Christian Malias, a George Mason signee.
“Even though we didn’t have [Mera] the first time we played them, we know what we’re up against,” Rey said. “Christian gave us fits in that first game, but these guys are ready, and we’re going to give it our full effort.”
Coral Reef will enjoy a state finals debut in two sports this weekend.
While its softball team plays for the first time at state in Vero Beach, the Barracudas’ boys’ volleyball team will open this year’s state tournament at 1 p.m. when it faces Lake Worth Park Vista.
Coral Reef (20-6) dropped a two-game match to Park Vista in April but has won their past four matches, all of which have gone at least four sets. The Barracudas ousted defending state runner-up Sunset on Tuesday night in the state play-in round.
Outstanding seniors, including middle hitters Cedric Hankerson (6-4), Malik Audain (6-6) and setter Anthony Caba (6-0), have sparked the surge for a team that went 7-12 only two seasons ago.
After two seasons away, perennial volleyball powerhouse Southwest is back in the state tournament.