Even though past seasons have ended with painful losses deep in the playoffs including a five-set state semifinal heartbreaker to Jupiter a year ago, that didn’t keep the Ferguson girls’ volleyball team — even though much bigger goals lie ahead — from proudly holding up four fingers when they posed with their GMAC championship trophy on Thursday night.
The Falcons had just finished putting the finishing touches on a 25-19, 25-21 victory over district-rival Southwest at Coral Reef High School to go into the GMAC record books as the first girls’ volleyball team to win four consecutive titles, surpassing Sunset’s three in a row back in the late 1980s.
“At the beginning of year we always set goals with things we want to do, including being first in our district and certainly winning GMAC is something we take a great deal of pride in as well,” said Ferguson coach Greg Shanower, whose team improved to 21-1, the only loss coming to Ocala Trinity Catholic in the OVA Dr. Phillips Tournament in Orlando early in the season.
“Especially winning it four times in a row now, which I understand had never been done. To us, that’s the pride of Miami, to be able to be the No. 1 public school in Miami was something we wanted to hold on to, and now it’s time to get on to the next step.”
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The next step for Shanower and his girls will be next week’s district tournament at Braddock, where a possible fourth matchup with Southwest in the final looms. Ferguson won both regular-season matches this season, including a five-set marathon just last Monday.
“It’s always very intense with them,” said Ferguson outside hitter Michelle Cuervo, who led the way with 14 kills and six digs. “We’re both really good teams and it’s always a good match and very intense because we all know each other and are all friends. But when we’re on the court, each side wants to come out on top and fortunately we were able to do that [Thursday].”
After mowing down Krop in the quarterfinals and Reagan in the semifinals, each in straight sets, Ferguson jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first set of the championship match before the Eagles (16-3), thanks to some amazing digs by Amanda Rodriguez, climbed right back in it, going on a 13-5 run to cut the Falcons’ lead to 18-17.
But two serves into the net proved expensive for Southwest and gave Ferguson the momentum back as the Falcons closed out the set on two Cuervo kills.
Southwest enjoyed a short lead for most of the second set before the Falcons, thanks to some big hits from Alexandra Gonzalez (seven kills, eight digs), took the lead for good at 18-17 and pulled away.
Melanie Cuervo, Michelle’s younger sister, also pitched in with 21 assists and two aces, and Grace Ieremia added four kills and five blocks.
“Winning GMACs is a great accomplishment and I feel like every team I’ve been on I’ve always had that desire to finish and win,” said Michelle Cuervo, a senior who will attend Quinapiac University in Connecticut next year. “We always strive to be the best we could be on the court at all times and now we want to carry this over into the playoffs.”
Said Shanower: “We just played a barn-burner with [Southwest] on Monday and it’s always close and competitive with very little separation between the two teams. They know you, you know them and it’s just a matter of finding that little bit of motivation with your girls and maybe reach into a little bag of tricks to try and come out on top.
“We could wind up facing them twice more [districts and regionals], so there’s a lot of work left.”
Semifinals — Ferguson d. Reagan (25-17, 25-13): Alexandra Gonzalez 7 kills, 8 digs. Southwest d. Coral Reef (25-19, 25-22): Mya Thomas 10 kills. Maria Rodriguez 7 kills.
Quaterfinals — Ferguson d. Krop (25-16, 25-11): Michelle Cuervo 8 kills, 2 aces. Kasandra Lopez 5 kills, 3 aces. Coral Reef d. Carol City (25-7, 25-11): Stefany Desroches 8 aces, 4 kills. Kristin Davis 4 kills. Southwest d. Miami Beach (25-18, 25-20): Melody Hershman 4 kills, 3 blocks. Mya Thomas 6 digs. Reagan d. Sunset (20-25, 25-20, 15-13): Sara Requena 6 kills. Ivana Brull 6 kills each.