Coral Reef’s volleyball team had yet to truly be challenged so far this season.
On Wednesday night, visiting Palmetto gave the Barracudas all they could handle even taking a set — something the Barracudas had only yielded in one other match.
But showing the resolve and experience of a team trying to reach the state finals for the second consecutive season, host Coral Reef rallied to beat Palmetto 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-19, improving its record to a perfect 9-0.
“Palmetto is always going to be a team that will challenge us,” Coral Reef coach Yasmin Ortiz said. “Once we got some good passing and got some momentum back, it made it a lot easier for us.”
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The Barracudas picked up their second district victory against Palmetto (7-4) this season, overcoming their slow start behind 11 kills, 22 assists and six digs from junior setter Kristine Rios.
Senior middle hitter Andrea Alespeiti finished with 10 kills and seven blocks. Senior outside hitter Adara Anselmo had 15 digs and eight kills, and sophomore outside hitter Lexi Mesa finished with seven kills and eight digs, committing only one hitting error in 23 attempts.
“Our defense keeps us in games and just us communicating with each other on the court,” Rios said. “I was expecting a bigger fight from Palmetto and it took us a while to click, but I knew we’d pull through.”
Palmetto opened the match on a 22-9 surge thanks to solid play from sophomore Lauren Phillips, junior Natalia Ucros and senior Taylor David.
But the Barracudas answered with a strong defensive effort up front and good back row play that allowed them to finish out the next three closely-contested sets.
“One thing as a coach that I’m trying to let them do is how to make adjustments on the court on their own,” Ortiz said. “That’s an experience they need to have not just on this level, but if they want to play college volleyball.”
Coral Reef lost four seniors and three starters overall — all of whom are playing college volleyball — from last year’s team, which became the first in the school’s history to reach state.
Coral Reef, however, wasn’t able to make much of a dent, losing in the Class 8A state semifinals to powerhouse Winter Park in three sets. The Barracudas’ goal this season is not just to go back to Kissimmee, but to be able to compete with the state’s best.
The Barracudas will get a chance to see what they are made of this weekend when they compete in a tournament in Orlando that features Edgewater and Dr. Phillips.
After returning to face more district foes such as Killian next week, Coral Reef will also compete in the Smoothie King Invitational in mid-October, a tournament that will include Miami-Dade stalwarts Westminster Christian and Ransom Everglades.
“I hope we come together and play as a team and not fall apart when we face tough competition,” Rios said. “Our mentality is to just get better with each match.”