Say this much for Mauricio Diaz. Wherever he goes, volleyball success seems quick to follow.
After 17 years of leading the Southwest boys’ program to great heights including state titles in 2003 and 2008 followed by six years at Ransom Everglades, where he led the girls to a state title in 2013, Diaz made the move over to Riviera Prepatory School with his talented daughter Aryanah last year.
And there they were, together on Thursday night amidst a wild celebration in a packed gym celebrating the school’s biggest athletic moment in its history. That after the Bulldogs overcame a shaky start to defeat Florida Christian 14-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-14 in a Region 4-4A final and punch their ticket to the state final four.
Riviera (20-4), a program in only its sixth year of existence and one that suffered through a winless season just four years ago, advances to the Class 4A state semifinal and will travel to Palm Beach County on Saturday, Nov. 11, to take on last year’s Class 4A state runner-up, Palm Beach Benjamin at 2 p.m.
“What a great moment for all of these girls and this school to pull something off like this,” said Diaz who has had well-documented health issues after being diagnosed with a brain tumor 2 and half years ago and was happy to report that he is still in remission and being given a clean bill of health. “What did I do? Just came over here and tried to get them to buy in. Buy in to what? The process, to trust it and know that if they did all the things the way they were supposed to, they would be rewarded, and there they are out there celebrating.”
The small school tucked away on 87th Avenue that just opened its Kendall campus seven years ago had never seen anything like it as the entire student body packed the gym and cheered wildly for their Bulldog girls all night long.
They didn’t have much to cheer about in the first set as Riviera, perhaps with a case of nerves, watched Florida Christian (18-8) dominate and win it easily 25-14.
“We lost our best player yesterday when she tore her ACL in practice, so I think there may have been an adjustment period early on and perhaps they were a little nervous, too,” said Diaz, who watched senior Nicoletta Maietto limp off the floor the day before with a torn ACL. “But give credit to these girls. They settled down and played the way they know how and got things turned in the right direction.”
The turn-key moment in the match came in the third set. Tied 23-23, Alexa Aguirre let go of two outstanding serves, both that FC could not return, and closed out a 25-23 win. With all of the momentum, they took a quick lead in the fourth and never looked back.
“This is just amazing. What a totally different experience it’s been coming over here,” said Aryanah Diaz, who is a junior who led the way for the Bulldogs with 17 kills and 12 assists and who already has offers from San Diego State and Quinnipiac. “It’s so exciting to come to a program where you can make history by doing something for the first time. We won districts for the first time, and now we’re regional champions and headed to state for the first time. What an exciting time for our school.”
MORE GIRLS’ VOLLEYBALL
▪ Region 4-9A semifinal – West Broward d. Dr. Krop 23-25, 25-20, 25-18, 21-25, 15-8: The Bobcats will host Southwest on Tuesday in the regional finals.
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal – Reagan d. Mater Academy 25-17, 25-21, 25-23: Andrea Bernal 16 kills, 10 digs; Sara Requena 7 kills; Ivana Brull 5 kills, 5 digs; Wilnelis Giusti 27 assists, 2 aces, 9 digs; Isabella Pacheco 17 digs, 4 assists; RR 21-1.
▪ Region 4-8A semifinal – St. Thomas Aquinas d. West Boca Raton 25-19, 25-23, 25-14: Sophie Davis 15 kills, 4 blocks, 1 ace and 2 service points; Paula Cerame 8 kills, 12 digs, 3 aces and 8 service points; Amanda Silvestri 18 digs, 1 ace and 8 service points; The Raiders (20-5) host Reagan at 7 p.m. in the regional finals on Tuesday.
▪ Region 4-7A semifinal - St. Brendan d. TERRA 25-21, 25-11, 25-16: Camila Treptow 33 assists, 9 digs; Alexis Dow 10 kills, 6 blocks; Emily Diaz 8 kills, Marcela Fernandez 7 kills, 11 digs; Nataly Hernandez 6 kills, 4 digs; Julie Lentz 5 kills, 3 blocks; St. Brendan (23-6) travels to Jensen Beach for its regional final on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
▪ Region 4-5A semifinal – Pine Crest d. Chaminade-Madonna 23-25, 25-17, 25-13, 25-14: Danielle Franzosa 21 digs, 7 service points; Amanda Allende 16 kills, 19 digs; Carly Price 33 assists. The Panthers advance to play Westminster Christian on Tuesday in the regional finals at 7 p.m.
▪ Region 4-6A semifinal: Archbishop McCarthy d. Riviera Beach Suncoast 25-20, 25-17, 24-26, 25-17: The Mavericks travel to Orlando to face Bishop Moore on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the regional finals.