Ever since the FHSAA unveiled its new volleyball districts, a playoff clash between the two most recently successful programs in Miami-Dade County seemed inevitable.
And although Westminster Christian appeared to be the favorite Saturday after beating Ransom twice earlier this season, it was the Raiders who saved their best performance for when it counted most.
An inspired performance led by Sophia Carrera-Justiz’s 14 kills and 12 digs helped Ransom Everglades beat host Westminster Christian in a sweep, 25-22, 25-21, 25-19 in a Region 4-4A semifinal.
The Raiders (16-9) snapped Westminster Christian’s county-record four-year streak of advancing to at least the state final four and will play in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday against Cardinal Gibbons in the regional finals at 7 p.m. Ransom can secure a third trip to the state semifinals in four seasons if it can beat Gibbons.
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“I feel like we finally kept our composure against Westminster and finished a match,” Ransom senior Sophie Bullard said. “Now we have the confidence we need to make a run to state.”
Ransom and Westminster Christian (22-7) each won state championships on the same day in 2013, then playing in separate classifications.
Even before that triumphant day, the two programs developed a mutual respect for one another on and off the court, collaborating to run tournaments such as the Smoothie King Invitational.
Most recently, Westminster and Ransom, in conjunction with Coral Reef and St. Brendan, each held charity games to raise money for Ransom assistant coach and longtime Southwest boys’ coach Mauricio Diaz after he was stricken with a brain tumor.
Diaz, who was at Saturday’s match watching from the stands, had successful surgery to remove the tumor this month. On Friday, Ransom coach Roger Peluso said Diaz served as a source of inspiration for the Raiders.
“[Diaz] surprised us at practice,” Peluso said. “He walked in and all the girls just stopped and ran up to him to give him a hug. They were so happy he was back, and I think he inspired them.”
After surrendering the first point, Ransom took the lead and didn’t trail by more than one point at any juncture the rest of the match.
Diaz’s daughter, freshman Aryanah Diaz, contributed with 15 assists and two aces. Annie Elkin’s serving was on point, with eight points and 14 assists.
Ransom’s serving was the focal point for its effectiveness throughout the contest.
It allowed the Raiders to set up at the net, receive and set up their hitters on the outsides with sophomore Sydney Bent and Carrera-Justiz and in the middle to Deb Ajagbe.
Bent finished with 11 kills and four blocks and Ajagbe had nine kills.
Carrera-Justiz, a Harvard University commitment who is an All-Dade first-team water polo player as well, came up with the most clutch stretch of points of the match. Tied at 20 in the second game, Carrera-Justiz scored Ransom’s next five points to help it take a 2-0 match lead and put the outcome away.
“We were up two sets the last time we played them and we thought we had it, so this was huge,” Carrera-Justiz said.
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal — Ferguson d. Southwest 25-13, 25-22, 27-25: Ferguson (25-3), which reached the state semifinal round in 2009 and 2013, will play at West Broward at 7 p.m. Tuesday looking for a trip to Orlando.
After a dominant effort in the first set, Ferguson had its hands full with Southwest from then on, but the Falcons ultimately prevailed in a second set that saw nine ties and six lead changes and a third that took a little extra to finish.
“At this point, you can see state on the horizon,” said Ferguson coach Greg Shanower, who earned his 300th career win this season. “On the floor and off the floor, they’re a band of sisterhood — instead of band of brotherhood. They’ve just been playing really well together.”
Junior outside hitter Michelle Cuervo agrees.
“I feel like this team has more chemistry together,” said Cuervo, who led Ferguson with 14 kills and five digs and is one of five Falcons to receive significant playing time on the state team two years ago. “We have to stay humble and hungry.”
Alex Gonzalez had seven kills and five digs, Natalie Hoyos added seven kills, two aces, 12 assists and 10 digs, and Bria Beverly had six kills and two blocks.
Southwest (17-6) had a tremendous season under first-year coach Alex Rivero. Five of the Eagles’ six losses came against Ferguson, which swept the season series.
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal — West Broward d. Dr. Krop 25-14, 25-11, 22-25, 25-15: The Bobcats took the first two sets before a Dr. Krop rally. But West Broward stopped anymore thoughts of a comeback by eliminating the Lightning in the fourth set.
The Bobcats, who have dropped back-to-back regional finals, hosts Ferguson on Tuesday in a 4-8A final.
“Since we lost in the final the last two years, I think it really has pushed people to realize that we need to step it up,” said West Broward’s Samanta Arenas, who had eight kills, eight digs and two blocks. “It’s a really big motivation.”
Brooke Webster tallied 16 kills, nine blocks and five digs for the victors, Kasey Strauss had 31 assists and four digs.
“Teams, that are ready and balanced and have a plan in mind, look organized,” Bobcats coach Corey Sarubbi said. “The minute you stop doing that — and start being complacent and take the touches for granted — is the minute you stop moving.”
▪ Region 3-8A semifinal — Cypress Bay d. Western 25-21, 17-25, 25-8, 25-17: Cypress Bay defeated visiting Western for the third consecutive year in the semis and fourth time this season.
Cypress Bay (20-7) won a hard-fought opening set but dropped the second set to the inspired Wildcats (15-7). The Lightning stormed back in the third, jumping out to a 10-0 lead, and finished off the Wildcats in the fourth.
“I’m really proud of the way they played,” Cypress Bay coach Jennifer Meyer said. “They really pushed through to the final point.”
Outside hitters Collen Siebold and Jordan Kron led the Lightning with a combined 28 kills and eight blocks. Libero Brooke Wierda kept Cypress Bay going throughout the match with 16 digs.
The Lightning will host a regional final against Jupiter at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Warriors have defeated Cypress Bay in the finals the past two years.
▪ Region 4-7A semifinal — St. Thomas Aquinas d. West Boca Raton 25-11, 25-10, 25-13: Allison Marble had nine kills, a block, four digs and 14 service points for the Raiders (27-2). Kaylie McHugh had 11 digs and five service points, and Jada Gardener added four kills and three blocks.
▪ Region 4-3A semifinal — Palmer Trinity d. Florida Christian 21-25, 25-21, 28-26, 25-3: Palmer Trinity (18-7) lost the first set 25-21 but flipped the score in the second set with Juliette Hamilton earning the winning point on serve.
Both teams exchanged points back and forth in the third set after reaching a stalemate at 26-26. Palmer Trinity untied the set after a rally that involved the ball bouncing off the rafters near the ceiling until finally earning the point on a kill.
After winning the third set, Palmer Trinity jumped to a 22-17 lead in the fourth set but Florida Christian rallied to tie it at 22. Middle hitter Ashley Quero broke the tie with a diving point followed by a kill to make it 24-22. On the game’s last play, outside hitter Grace Seide spiked the ball to earn the kill.
“After the first set, we came back and tried to fix our errors,” Palmer Trinity coach William Gonzalez said. “We stayed committed to our plays and went on a few runs.”
Quero led Palmer Trinity with 17 digs and also had three blocks, two aces and 13 kills, and Juliette Hamilton had 83 assists, 10 digs, four kills and two aces. Grace Hibshman added 13 kills and three blocks, and Daniela Diaz had five kills, 10 digs, and six aces.
Florida Christian won the first set behind a team effort led by senior Katerina Rey, who earned the set-winning point on one of her 18 kills. Rey also had 18 digs. Gianna Ortiz and Jessica Barcelo had 18 and 19 assists, respectively, and Nicole Fontela had 27 digs.
▪ Region 4-3A — Miami Country Day d. Dade Christian 25-14, 25-9, 25-11: Sasha Jenkins had 20 assists, two kills and four digs, and Brooke Pumo had 11 kills, 13digs and an ace.
Nyasia John totaled nine kills, two blocks and a dig, and Jade Iadorala recorded seven kills, 10 digs and two aces. Indira Dandrigde had seven kills, three blocks and a dig. Sam Dorfman had 20 digs.
Other region semifinal scores: 4-5A: Pompano Beach d. Archbishop McCarthy 25-17, 25-14, 25-23. 4-3A: Westminster Academy d. NPB-Benjamin 11-25, 25-20, 19-25, 25-20, 17-15. 4-2A: Divine Savior d. Westwood Christian 25-15, 24-26, 25-10, 18-25, 15-10. 4-2A: Boca Raton Christian d. Sheridan Hills 25-11, 18-25, 25-19, 25-18.
3-8A: Cypress Bay at Jupiter; 4-8A: Ferguson at West Broward; 4-7A: Mourning at St. Thomas Aquinas (Wednesday); 4-6A: Sunset at Jensen Beach; 4-5A: Pompano Beach at Orlando Bishop Moore; 4-4A: Ransom Everglades at Cardinal Gibbons; 3-3A: Westminster Academy at Fort Myers Evangelical Christian; 4-3A: Palmer Trinity at Miami Country Day; 4-2A: Divine Savior at Boca Raton Christian (Wednesday).
NOTE: All games 7 p.m. Tuesday unless noted.