St. Thomas Aquinas is enjoying its most successful era in its volleyball program’s history.
The Raiders are in the final stages of their attempt to win three consecutive state championships for the first time.
A major key has been its talented roster’s ability to maintain a high level of effort no matter the opponent.
And when that drops in the slightest, longtime coach Lisa Zielinski is quick to remind her players.
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“We set our expectations pretty high on how we will perform and what we expect from each other,” Zielinski said. “The fact we were able to win in three I’m happy with, but not too happy with the lack of focus.”
Aquinas made a number of unforced errors Tuesday afternoon and a hungry Cypress Bay squad nearly became the first Florida team this season to take a set from the Raiders in the finals of the BCAA Big 8 tournament.
But seniors Brook Bauer and Kirsten McClain responded with two quick points that secured a 25-18, 25-17, 25-23 victory for Aquinas over the host Lightning.
The Raiders (22-2) won the county title for the fourth consecutive season since the tournament’s inception led by a balanced effort from its team.
Bauer and senior Emma Dixon each had 12 kills and senior Allison Marble led with 14. Bauer and Marble each had seven digs.
Leading Aquinas’ defense was junior libero Paula Cerame with 22 digs.
The Raiders’ setting duo of junior Derry Costigan and sophomore Kelsey O’Loughlin paced the attack as Costigan finished with 26 assists and O’Loughlin had 22 to go along with seven service points.
The championship match had been postponed from last week because of the threat of Hurricane Matthew. Aquinas defeated Monarch and Everglades last Tuesday in the first two rounds of the tournament and beat Pine Crest on Monday.
Cypress Bay, which made it to the finals for the first time, defeated West Broward and Coral Springs to advance to the final.
Colleen Siebold made several kills to give the Lightning a chance in the second and third sets.
Aquinas is hoping the victory will again be a springboard to a state title.
If the Raiders are successful, they would become only the third Broward County team along with Cardinal Gibbons and Pine Crest to pull off a “three-peat.”
“I don’t think we played with a lot of intensity in this match,” Zielinski said. “But these girls are going to fight even when things aren’t going their way. They know how to keep fighting and start executing. Going into the postseason, I think limiting the unforced errors is really what we need to do.”