St. Thomas Aquinas’ volleyball team is used to intense tournament competition.
Playing 10 matches in a 10-day span can wear on any team.
The Raiders withstood the challenge and found a way to pull out a close victory against longtime rival Cardinal Gibbons in five games 25-18, 24-26, 25-27, 25-15, 15-12 to secure the championship of the inaugural BCAA tournament.
Aquinas (21-2) won three matches to capture the county title, including best three of five game victories against Gibbons and Pompano Beach. The Raiders also beat Western in the quarterfinals of the tournament that was played at Gibbons.
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The Raiders also beat state powerhouse Venice on the road earlier this week and recently played at a national tournament in Chicago.
“We were tired because of the long week,” Aquinas coach Lisa Zielinski said. “I’m real proud for us to come out and still beat a very good team like Gibbons. It shows a lot. Having this tournament definitely helps because we can play a few more matches like teams around the state are able to do.”
Junior Nikki Lyons helped the Raiders rally from a 2-1 game deficit with 17 kills, 12 digs, three aces and three blocks, and freshman Emma Dixon finished with 13 kills.
Senior setter Mackenzie Zielinski finished with 39 assists and 10 digs.
Senior Alliyah McBean and sophomore Kaylie McHugh had great games defensively finishing with 18 digs each.
“We all knew it was crunch time in this last game,” Mackenzie Zielinski said. “We put all the small energy we had left into this match.”
Aquinas’ stamina was tested in the second and third games, especially as Cardinal Gibbons took both closely contested games behind outstanding play Laura Langsenkamp, Bailey Pearlman and Kassie Akouri-Tejedor.
Aquinas answered in the fourth game, scoring nine consecutive points led by freshman Brooke Bauer’s strong serving.
McBean helped Aquinas with some more precise serving to score four consecutive points in the decisive game after a 5-5 tie and eventually win the match.
Cardinal Gibbons defeated Cypress Bay and Coral Springs to advance to the final. The two teams will play again in a regular-season match at Cardinal Gibbons Tuesday night.
“We have a lot of experience playing different teams and different hitters,” Zielinski said. “We’ve been able to see a wide variety of players and now we know how to defend them.”