Quartet of high schools among the best in the state

08/27/2013 12:01 AM

08/27/2013 2:01 AM

For the past few decades, a pair of Catholic high schools have dominated girls’ volleyball in Broward County.

Chaminade-Madonna and Archbishop McCarthy are trying to join the club and move in on the turf that has belonged to St. Thomas Aquinas and Cardinal Gibbons.

Although the Lions and Mavericks don’t have the championship pedigree that those other two schools do — Gibbons has won a state-record 19 titles and Aquinas has a pair of its own — they are most definitely programs on the rise.

Last season, Chaminade-Madonna advanced to the regional finals after beating Cardinal Gibbons in the semifinals.

Archbishop McCarthy has been to the regional finals in each of the past two years.

However, after losing a pair of All-Broward (second and third-team) selections to graduation, the Mavericks look to improve and strengthen themselves as the season goes along.

Not so in Hollywood as coach Jason Johnson brings back a pair of All-Broward selections in middle hitter Emily O’Neil (the Miami Herald’s small-school Player of the Year in 2012) and setter Alyssa Osborn.

Chaminade-Madonna (24-4 last year) has four starters returning.

“The girls have expectations for themselves, they want to improve on last year and that’s a pretty high bar,” said Johnson, the 2012 Coach of the Year who is now in his 14th season.

“We want to return to the state finals. We have a lot of work to do, some holes to fill. I think the girls are pretty determined to get back where we were, get a chance to get to states.”

Strengthening his team’s level of competition is something Johnson has aimed to do over the past few years.

The Lions not only play in competitive District 14-4A, which includes Calvary Christian and Pine Crest, but Chaminade-Madonna hosts the annual “C-M Cares” tournament, which not only raises money for cancer research, but also brings in some of the region’s top teams.

This year, the tournament — which runs from Oct. 4-5 — features the Lions, Ransom-Everglades (which beat Chaminade-Madonna in the regional finals), Archbishop McCarthy, Palmer-Trinity, Boca St. Andrew’s, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers Riverdale and Vero Beach.

“My goal is to bring in tough competition to help us and everyone else,” Johnson said. “You find out where you are at at the end of the season.”

Like Chaminade-Madonna, St. Thomas Aquinas (23-4 last season) expects to build on last year as well.

The Raiders have been to the state finals in each of the past two seasons and have been to the state tournament four times since 2007 and nine times over coach Lisa Zielinski’s 26 seasons.

Despite losing three starters to graduation, the Raiders do bring back the reigning Miami Herald big-school Player of the Year in setter Mackenzie Zielinski. Junior outside hitter Kara Mason, a starter at Boca High, also moves in to help out.

“We have a new team, and we are moving forward,” Mackenzie Zielinski said. “We have a new team dynamic. The girls who are back know what it’s like to get to states. We have nothing to lose. We’re not the defending champs or anything like that. We just want to be the team to bring the championships back.”

Like Broward’s other top programs, Zielinski sets up the schedule so Aquinas plays a tough slate of games as it prepares for the postseason.

The Raiders will not only play Broward powers Cardinal Gibbons and Cypress Bay, but they also will play in a national tournament in Chicago.

Aquinas will also play Venice, Tampa Berkeley, Fort Myers Evangelical and Stuart Martin County. Venice beat the Raiders in three sets to win the 2012 Class 7A state championship.

“We do it to, obviously, get as much competition as we can,” Lisa Zielinski said of the strong schedule. “Our class is very competitive, and there is no easy road. You don’t want to go into it unprepared. It’s the postseason that counts.

“I would rather have some losses in a tough season than be undefeated and play an easy schedule. You think you are good until you lose.”

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