Westminster Christian came up well short of expectations a year ago.
On Tuesday night, the Warriors got back to where they expect to be annually — within striking distance of a state championship.
Led by its senior star Nikkia Benitez, who finished with 17 kills, Westminster Christian jumped out to an early lead and then held on to beat visiting Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian 25-17, 25-22, 17-25, 25-14 in the Region 4-5A final.
The Warriors (25-4) advanced to the state semifinals for the fifth time in six seasons and will host Fort Myers Bishop Verot in that round at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Our plan was to beat them in three but we knew they were good and would keep fighting to get back in it,” Westminster Christian coach Julie Doan said. “We just had to stick to our plan and do whatever it took to hold them off.”
Benitez found the mark often throughout the match against a tough block by Calvary Christian led by Nicole Decker and Faith Jefferson.
But Westminster’s attack was orchestrated effectively throughout the match by setters Ingrid Savola and Quinn Blanco, who finished with 20 and 18 assists, respectively.
Doan credited them for countering Calvary Christian’s plan on attacking them when on serve.
Savola finished with 11 digs and Blanco had 13 as they and eighth-grader Saskia Hernandez (15 digs, seven kills), led the Warriors’ defense along with senior Sophia Poveda.
That allowed Benitez and Priscilla Hernandez (14 kills) to land key points throughout the match.
The Warriors took control after the first two games before Decker and some great serving from Eliana Burgos helped the Eagles win the third game.
But Hernandez helped Westminster take the lead quickly in the fourth and eventually hold off any effort by Calvary to come back.
▪ Region 4-5A Final — Westminster Christian d. Calvary Christian (25-17, 25-22, 17-25, 25-14): CC (19-5): Nicole Decker 2 aces, 8 points, 13 kills, 14 digs, 2 blocks. Maylin Bouffard 3 points, 9 kills, 18 digs, block. Kaitlyn Green 3 points, 6 kills, 4 blocks.
▪ Region 4-7A final, South Fork d. St. Brendan (25-15, 25-22, 25-9): South Fork (Stuart) swept host Saint Brendan to advance to its first volleyball state semifinal. South Fork will face Barron Collier (Naples) or Charlotte (Punta Gorda) in the state semifinal.
“We have a really young team and it showed today, but we took a big step forward as a program,” coach Julio Arnaiz said.
The Bulldogs (26-11) took the first set 25-15 thanks to an ace by Haley Thorsteinson.
The Sabres (17-11) kept the second set close and led 22-20 late. South Fork railed with five points in a row and closed out the set on a block by Lindsay Glynn.
South Fork dominated the final set and won 25-9 on a Saint Brendan hitting error.
Marcela Fernandez led the Sabres with 12 kills and Camila Treptow had 19 assists. Thorsteinson led the Bulldogs with 24 assists.
MORE REGIONAL SCORES
▪ St. Thomas d. Mourning (25-13, 25-10, 25-16): Brook Bauer 10 kills, 7 digs, 3 blocks, 4 aces, 10 points. Emma Dixon 10 kills. Jada Gardener 10 kills. STA 28-2.