Forgive the exuberance of Ferguson High supporters when word filtered down Wednesday night that Ransom Everglades and Westminster Christian finally had ended Miami-Dade County’s 18-year drought without a state girls’ volleyball crown.
“All our parents were saying, ‘Three in a row, we can do it!’ ” Ferguson coach Greg Shanower said.
Alas, the surge in Miami-Dade pride turned out to be no match for an experienced Lake Mary squad that stymied Ferguson as time went on to win their Class 8A semifinal in four games.
Lake Mary shook off a four-point deficit midway through the third game to grind out a 25-22 win, then blitzed the Falcons 25-12 in the finale.
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“It’s a game of momentum and emotions,” Shanower said. “I think we let our momentum get away and our emotions get too high. We didn’t play at an even keel. Going into that fourth game, it took a lot of wind out of our sails.”
Lake Mary, which reached its first state final, advanced to take on Winter Park in a clash of suburban Orlando powers. Ferguson finishes 24-7 in its first trip back to volleyball’s Final Four since 2009.
“This season was an amazing season,” said setter Sophie Serrano, one of just two seniors on the roster. “I’m proud of the season we had, and to get here is a huge accomplishment. Playing in the final would have been amazing, but I’m proud that we got here.”
Freshman hitter Michelle Cuervo led Ferguson with 19 kills and 15 digs. Senior Annika Reczek added 10 kills.
The Falcons were district runners-up to Lourdes Academy, but finally got past their nemesis in the regional semifinals and dispatched West Broward to book their ticket to Silver Spurs Arena.
But they were clearly the underdogs of the 8A draw. Lake Mary’s roster features five seniors and six juniors, Winter Park is nationally ranked and Jupiter’s junior-dominated lineup came to Kissimmee with a 21-2 mark.
At one point, Ferguson’s side of the net featured three freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors.
“We have a lot of young hitters,” Shanower said, “and they started hitting into [Lake Mary’s] blocks. … I don’t think we were really outmatched when it comes to size. But I think one of the things they have that we really don’t is they have a lot of experience.”
What the Falcons may have lacked in experience, they tried to make up for with aggressive play. After dropping the first game 25-18, Shanower challenged his players to not back down.
“I told them after that first game that we didn’t come up here to not play aggressive,” he said. “Win or lose, we’re going to be aggressive. Swing hard, serve tough. That’s what we did in the second game and we continued that trend up until the third game.”
Ferguson used a 7-2 run to grab a 16-12 lead midway through Game 3, only to see the Rams reel off eight of the next nine points to forge ahead 20-17. The Falcons twice closed within one, the last time at 23-22, but Lake Mary’s Hannah Driscoll pounded home a kill and Katia Haak closed the game with an ace.
“It’s really contagious when our girls are flying around and getting balls up and down,” Lake Mary coach Brandon East said.