KISSIMMEE -- The long journey back for Miami-Dade County girls’ volleyball is complete.
Westminster Christian ended the county’s 18-year state championship drought Wednesday afternoon by dethroning five-time defending state champion Orlando First Academy 25-22, 25-16, 16-25, 25-21 to win the Class 3A title at Silver Spurs Arena.
The Warriors (28-6), who had lost in the state semifinals each of the past two seasons, won their first state championship, becoming the first for Dade since Sunset in 1995. Ransom Everglades also won the Class 4A title later in the day, giving Dade multiple state champions in the same season for the first time. Dade still has one more team — Ferguson — competing Thursday in the Class 8A bracket.
“We’re thrilled beyond words because this is years in the making,” Westminster Christian coach Julie Doan said. “This is beyond amazing because this is what all our girls have played for all their careers.”
Doan, who coaches on the Miami Elite Volleyball club, has been one of the coaches working to restore Dade volleyball to an elite level in recent years.
Before this year’s tournament, Dade teams had only won three matches overall since 1995, often losing lopsided matches in recent years. That trend began to slowly change in the latter part of the last decade, with schools such as Palmer Trinity, Killian, Ferguson, Coral Reef, Ransom Everglades and Westminster Christian all playing more competitive matches at state.
“With any sport, if you’re not playing all year-round, you’re falling behind,” Doan said. “To be the best, you have to dedicate the time to it. These teams in Orlando have been doing that for years, and it shows with the success they’ve had. When all of these girls started traveling and realizing what real volleyball was up state, they realized we want this, too, and they’ve earned the opportunities to do something great with the skills they have.”
On Wednesday, a team molded by club experience led the Warriors to the victory, jumping to a two-game lead on First Academy.
Sylvia Hernandez and Jenny Ceballos each finished with an identical amount of kills for the second consecutive match, finishing with 20 each. The Warriors’ core of seniors that included setter Kelsey Taylor’s 43 assists, Kat Salgado’s seven kills and libero Susie Forbes’ 16 digs, kept the Royals off balance in the fourth enough to clinch the match. Junior Sammy Ceballos had 12 digs.
“We’re the first ones in forever,” Taylor said. “That’s crazy.”
Hernandez added: “Since I started playing, I heard about the history of playing at state. There are really no words I can say to describe it.”
Westminster Christian finished with 60 digs as a team, as it contained First Academy’s tough front line in check.
“Since we’ve been here the past three years, it got us to a point where we didn’t want to lose,” Ceballos said. “We wanted to take it all because we knew it was our last chance.”