Karen Frank lifted the state championship trophy as high as she could.
Then she let herself get swarmed in a sea of emotion as the Archbishop McCarthy boys’ volleyball team surrounded their coach and celebrated their first state championship.
Down by one set twice against a similarly resilient Miami Killian team making its first appearance in a state final, the Mavericks found just enough energy to secure a victory in five sets (23-25, 25-19, 17-25, 25-17, 15-12) on Saturday night at Golden Gate High School.
It was the first matchup between teams from Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in a state boys’ volleyball championship game. The only previous state final between South Florida teams came in 2005 when Cardinal Gibbons won Broward County’s only prior state title by beating Chaminade-Madonna.
“Three of these players have started for me for the past four years and this was theirs and all these kids’ dream,” said Frank, the only coach in the 14-year history of McCarthy boys’ volleyball. “All of our players pulled themselves together.”
McCarthy (27-2) became only the second Broward County team to win a boys’ state title in the sport and was the first champion from either Dade or Broward since Southwest Miami in 2008.
With Killian’s victory in the semifinal round against Riviera Beach Suncoast, which also took five thrilling sets, the Cougars became the first Dade team to advance to the state final since Sunset in 2012. No Dade team outside of Southwest’s two championships has ever won the state title.
McCarthy played in the state final for the second year in a row following a semifinal sweep of Orlando Lake Nona.
Killian, which graduates five of its six starters, became the first team since the state tournament began in 2003 to play five sets in each of its three tournament matches.
“We lost but we did awesome,” Killian coach Clinton Reid said. “I think after playing every match going five sets, I think we were exhausted. We called certain plays they normally make and they just couldn’t respond. But this team really stood out and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
It was no secret to anyone that watched the Mavericks play this season that their emotions often influenced their execution in matches.
So after Killian took complete control of the third set with a 10-2 scoring run and secured a 2-1 lead in the match, McCarthy decided a break in the action was imperative.
The Mavericks’ coaches huddled in between sets behind a curtain that divided the main court from an auxiliary court of the gym.
“We all noticed we weren’t playing with energy, which we knew is what got us back here [to state],” said setter Luis Vazquez-Ugalde, who played in pain in both matches Saturday after nearly separating his shoulder in the quarterfinal round. “We came back with resilience and we stayed true to our game.”
The team that emerged met some initial resistance from Killian (26-4) in the fourth set, but finally seized the advantage late thanks to Ozzie Fernandez and Michael Moreiras, who led McCarthy with 13 and 11 kills respectively.
Vazquez-Ugalde paced McCarthy’s attack throughout the tournament and finished with 42 assists in the championship match.
The Mavericks took advantage of Killian errors and surged to a 9-3 lead in the decisive fifth.
Killian counterpunched and cut the deficit to 9-8 behind Christopher Hallstrand and Marquis Ramsay’s play at the net. Hallstrand finished with 15 kills as did Jason Harris, who also had 21 assists and 13 digs. Jomar Mondestin finished with 16 kills.
Leading 12-11, Moreiras found the mark on a kill. At 13-12, James Brooks converted another kill. And then a spike attempt by Killian sailed wide, setting off a celebratory pile up of Mavericks on the court.
“This has been my only dream since sixth grade,” Moreiras said. “Even in the middle of that last game, I wasn’t sure we’d pull it off. But we just kept fighting and kept persevering.”
▪ State semifinal – Killian d. Riviera Beach Suncoast 21-15, 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 18-16: Jason Harris had 11 kills, 19 assists and 14 digs to lead the Cougars. Christopher Hallstrand had a team-high 16 kills and Jomar Mondestin had 12 kills.
▪ State semifinal – Archbishop McCarthy d. Orlando Lake Nona 26-24, 25-18, 25-19: Michael Moreiras led the Mavericks with 13 kills. Luis Vazquez-Ugalde totaled 36 assists and James Brooks had 11 kills. Leo DeQuadros had nine kills and six digs.