Playing in a small, noisy, hostile gym with plenty of quarks including an unusually low ceiling, the Westminster Christian girls volleyball team needed to summon up every ounce of its defending state champion pedigree on Wednesday night.
It was that or see their season and opportunity to defend that state title come to and end.
Westminster’s season powered forward as the Warriors, defending champions in Class 5A, managed to fight off a talented and determined Gulliver Prep. team, knocking off the Raiders 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23) in a Region 4-5A semifinal at Gulliver.
The Warriors (20-7) advance to next week’s regional final where they will host Pine Crest, which defeated Chaminade-Madonna in four sets, on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. Westminster, which also won a state title in 2013, will be looking to punch its sixth ticket to the state final four in the last seven years with a win over Pine Crest.
“We know Gulliver is always good and knew how tough a mission this would be tonight and talked a lot about keeping our composure,” said Westminster coach Julie Doan. “We knew it was going to be loud, their fans are obnoxious but in a good way, the roof is low and there would be a lot of things to overcome. We felt like we covered all the bases in practice, put up a really nice game plan, good scouting report, it was just up to the girls to execute and they did when it counted the most.”
When it really counted the most was when the Warriors, after going back and forth with Gulliver’s two strong front line hitters Isabella Lamus and Lauren Potter all night, finally got things to a match point, up 24-23 in the fourth set.
That’s when setter Ingrid Savola, who finished with 41 assits, laid one up perfectly for senior outside hitter Priscella Hernandez who skied well off the ground and nailed a thunderous kill shot to end the match.
“I knew what was on the line so that’s about as high as I can get off the ground,” said Hernandez who is headed for the University of Miami but to play soccer, not volleyball and who finished the night with a team-leading 23 kills. “We had a chance to finish it right there and I had to swing as hard as I could. We had seen Gulliver multiple times so we knew they were tough and what we were coming into tonight. It’s tough in this gym, it’s loud because it’s small and the ceiling is really low but we did a great job of keeping our composure and doing what we needed to do to get out of here with the win.”
“It took a lot of mental toughness,” said senior outside hitter Natalia Martinez who finished with 13 kills and four blocks. “Everybody would scream and it would get really loud but we just had to keep our focus and not let the noise get to us, know that we know how to win these kinds of matches.”
Said Doan: “We knew they (Potter and Lamus) would get some good swings and blocks but just said we’re not going to lose our composure, not going to get frazzled. We were just going to keep playing and respond and that’s what we did.”
Region 4-9A semifinal - Southwest d. Coral Reef 23-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-22: After losing the first set, host Southwest won the next three to knock off Coral Reef and advance to the region final. The Eagles (20-3) will face West Broward or Krop in the final.
“After the first set, we were not feeling down, just trying to lift each other up," Mia Thomas said. "We need to play as one and listen to coach to get to state.”
The Barracudas (22-7) took the first set thanks to a kill by Dalayni Etienne. A kill by Maria Rodriguez won the second set for Southwest. Mya Thomas, twin sister of Mia, won the third set with a kill. The fourth set was won due to a hitting error by Coral Reef.
Mya Thomas led Southwest with 10 kills and 15 digs. Mia Thomas had 40 assists.
Stefany Desroches led Coral Reef with 17 kills, Lisa Mesa had 26 digs and Valeria Salvaggio had 31 assists.
Region 3-8A semifinal - Cypress Bay d. Douglas 25-16, 25-13, 25-17: The indicators favored the Cypress Bay volleyball team.
The Lightning had won 11 of their past 12 matches, was 8-0 against common opponents and 5-3 all-time in regional matches against Douglas prior to Wednesday’s Class 9A regional semifinal match.
Cypress Bay moves forward to Tuesday’s regional final following its 25-16, 25-13, 25-17 victory. The Lightning will host Palm Beach Gardens (24-1), who defeated Spanish River 25-13, 25-16, 25-10 on Wednesday.
The Lightning (19-5) will attempt to get over the hurdle of losing in the regional finals the past two seasons to a Palm Beach County school. They haven’t reached the state semifinals since 2004.
The victory was the second straight over Douglas in the regional playoffs in consecutive seasons. They won last year 25-19, 25-11, 25-11 in a Class 9A regional quarterfinal.
Despite starting five freshman, the Lightning looked impressive and made the victory look easy.
“It wasn’t an easy match because Douglas was a good team,” Cypress Bay coach Ore Ablos said. “We were able to dominate them on the. defensive side of the court.”
With five freshman starters, Cecilia Robert-Rodriguez was key in the deciding set producing five of 11 kills.
“The sets and passes were right there that allowed us to get the hits. “Robert-Rodriguez said. “I was trying to get the spots to get the points.”
Senior Colleen Siebold led Cypress Bay with 17 kills, while senior Alexandra Santory added six kills.
Though the final set was competitive, the Lightning jumped out to big leads 14-5 and 15-5 in the first two sets of the match.
Douglas (15-5), which had been 6-1 at home this season, actually led 13-11 in the final set before the Lightning took the lead for good at 15-14.