St. Thomas Aquinas is getting another chance at ending Wellington’s bid for a perfect boys’ volleyball season.
The teams met on March 21, and Wellington barely edged Aquinas 25-22, 27-25. It was the third match of the day for each team as part of the local Jungle Queen Tournament.
“We had the lead in both games, but we let it slip away,” said Eric Wurts, who is in his sixth season as Aquinas’ coach. “We didn’t stay with the pedal down.”
The circumstances — and the stakes — will be much different on Friday at 9 p.m., when Aquinas (19-3) and Wellington (28-0) meet in the single-elimination state quarterfinals at Pine Crest.
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Wurts said his team matches up “fine” with Wellington. His main concern is the starting time. Aquinas-Wellington is the fourth and final quarterfinal of the night, and Wurts believes it is likely the earlier matches will be hotly contested and will not be sweeps.
All the start times might have to be pushed back if they are as tight as Wurts predicts.
“I think we may be starting close to 10:30 or 11 [p.m.],” Wurts said. “I think all those matches will be a battle.”
Wurts said his players will go home after school Friday with the instructions of resting, having a healthy dinner and keeping hydrated. He wants his players at the Pine Crest gym at least 90 minutes before the start of their match.
Logistics aside, neither team has a strong history at state. This is Aquinas’ first trip to the state quarterfinals. Wellington lost in its first trip to the quarterfinals in 2005 and had not been back before this season.
Aquinas starts all seniors, including 5-10 Nicholas Rusk, who has signed to play at Division III Emerson College in Boston, and 6-4 opposite hitter Sean Davis.
The setter is Stefano Rivera, and the other starters are 6-2 middle blocker Kyle Schroeder, 6-0 outside hitter Robert Carsello and 6-1 middle blocker Ben Pflum.
Wellington, while undefeated, did not play a particularly tough schedule. Aquinas is the only state qualifier Wellington played this season. Aquinas did play one other state qualifier, defeating Tampa’s Berkeley Prep 3-1.
Three other state quarterfinal matches will precede Aquinas vs. Wellington on Friday. The tournament favorite is defending state champion Longwood Lyman (26-0), which has won 57 matches in a row. Lyman opens against undersized Miami Killian (23-5) on Friday at 4:30.
The survivor of the Lyman-Killian match will play the winner between Mourning (18-6) and Boca Raton (19-7) in a Saturday semifinal at 10 a.m.
The Aquinas-Wellington winner will play the winner between Ransom Everglades (26-3) and Berkeley Prep (19-7) in a Saturday semifinal at noon. The final is Saturday at 4 p.m.
Wurts likes his chances because he has an all-senior lineup that is pretty much evenly divided in terms of talent.
“I’ve had that struggle all year,” Wurts said when asked to identify his best player. “Rusk is probably my most inspirational player. [Rivera] is quiet, but he has distributed the ball well and makes good decisions. Davis has been fantastic. It’s a good group.”