Pine Crest volleyball coach Albert Sturgeon had a three-year plan to get the Panthers back to state championship contention.
The project was on the brink of collapse Saturday afternoon against Ransom Everglades.
But trailing 14-11 in the decisive fifth game, Pine Crest scored five consecutive points to save its season and dethrone the reigning Class 4A state champions 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 25-19, 14-25, 16-14) in the Region 4-4A final at Ransom Everglades.
“We had a goal since the start of the season, and I just felt like it was destiny for us to win it this season,” Sturgeon said. “It started with our middle school program, and it’s taken these girls three years to really grasp our system, and we always knew even when we lost the past two seasons in the playoffs that this was going to be our year.”
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The Panthers are one of four South Florida teams that qualified for the state finals Saturday, joining St. Thomas Aquinas, Coral Reef and Westminster Christian.
Pine Crest (23-7), a three-time state champion, advanced to state for the first time since 2007 and will play Tampa Holy Names on Wednesday in a Class 4A state semifinal at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
Ransom Everglades (27-5) was within a point of returning to state for the third consecutive season after Sophie Bullard scored a pair of kills.
Sophomore Ariana Altieri answered with a kill and junior Caitlin Harvey followed.
An unforced error by Ransom tied the match.
Two Pine Crest kills later, it was over.
Altieri finished with 12 kills and nine digs and Duque finished with 23 digs and two aces. Setter Kylie Bruder totaled 40 assists, 17 digs and five kills.
▪ Region 4-3A final — Westminster Christian d. Melbourne Central Catholic, 23-25, 25-23, 25-16, 25-21: The Warriors (21-9) became the first Miami-Dade County team to advance to state four consecutive seasons by rallying to beat the visiting Hustlers.
Against Melbourne Central Catholic’s tall blocking lineup of 6-2 middle hitters Alana Shoff and Raquel Kulak, Westminster Christian struggled early, dropping the first game and falling behind 15-9 in the second.
Senior Sammy Ceballos and sophomore Nikkia Benitez led the Warriors back to tie the game at 20 and win it.
Westminster Christian’s precise serving set up its attack and allowed it to take control of the two ensuing games and win the match.
Ceballos finished with 18 kills and seven digs and Benitez had 16 kills. Sophomore Quinn Blanco had 30 assists, junior Isabella Hernandez had 11 kills and 12 digs and senior Jessica Moo Young had 31 digs.
“We kept an eye on the big picture all season, and we always felt it was possible to get back to state this season,” Westminster Christian coach Julie Doan said.
ANDRE C. FERNANDEZ
▪ Region 3-8A final — Jupiter d. Cypress Bay 25-21, 25-19, 25-14: About the only thing the Cypress Bay volleyball team did wrong this season was have the misfortune to be in the same region with nationally ranked Jupiter.
And unfortunately for the Lightning, that road block to the state final four, a team with a 27-1 record and ranked No.17 in the nation by Max Preps, hit them for the second year in a row when Jupiter traveled to Cypress Bay and delivered a straight-game knockout. Jupiter (28-1) will take on Coral Reef in an Class 8A state semifinal in Kissimmee on Friday.
“We knew we had to come out and play nearly perfect [Saturday] because they’re obviously a great team that just doesn’t make mistakes and it showed out there [Saturday],” said Cypresss Bay coach Jennifer Meyer, whose team finished 25-4. “We came out strong with a lot of high energy but we just couldn’t maintain that level. Our serve/receive was ultimately what broke down on us.”
Cypress Bay was led by its two seniors, Rachael Tomasiello (five kills) and Priscella Ertty (22 assists), along with Jordan Kron (seven kills) and Antonia Banos (14 digs).
▪ Region 4-8A final: Coral Reef d. West Broward, 25-18, 25-17, 23-25, 25-22: The Barracudas (26-4) advanced to the state semifinals for the second time in three years, disposing of visiting West Broward (20-8) in four sets.
Coral Reef, which is two wins away from its first state title in girls’ volleyball, will play Jupiter on Friday in Kissimmee.
Coral Reef took the first two sets without ever trailing. The Barracudas were dominant at times, putting together a 10-0 run in the second set.
West Broward battled back to win the third set and continued fighting in the final game. Coral Reef had match point at 24-18, but West Broward won four consecutive points before finally falling.
It’s the second year in a row that West Broward has been eliminated in the regional finals by a Miami school, following its loss to Ferguson last season.
▪ Region 4-7A final — St. Thomas Aquinas d. Delray Beach Atlantic 25-10, 25-15, 25-22: St. Thomas Aquinas advanced to the final four for the fourth consecutive season with a straight-set home victory against Delray Beach Atlantic.
The Raiders (26-4), who each of the past three visits to the final four have fallen to the eventual champion, will look to change their fate and finally bring a title home for the first time since 2004. They face Lutz Steinbrenner in the state semifinals on Friday at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
Senior outside hitter Nikki Lyons, who has been with Aquinas through all the state losses, assured her Raiders would get back to the final four in her final season. She swooped in for the kill whenever Atlantic (22-5) would gain momentum and recorded the match-clinching kill on a vicious spike.
Sophomore and fellow outside hitter Brooke Bauer had a game-high 13 kills. Senior Kara Mason registered eight kills and seven digs, and libero Kaylie McHugh led the Raiders with 11 digs.
▪ Region 4-5A final — Merrit Island d. Pompano Beach 25-18, 25-18, 16-25, 26-24: Alyssa Zwolensky is only a sophomore, but she led Merritt Island (23-7) into the state semifinals with a dominant performance against host Pompano Beach (22-7).
The young outside hitter led the Mustangs with a match-high 23 kills. Merritt Island took the first two sets comfortably but dropped the third set to Pompano Beach behind the strong play of senior Paige Alsten, who finished with a team-high 11 kills.
Merritt Island jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the final set only to see the Golden Tornadoes rattle off a 14-5 run to take a two-point lead. But the Mustangs regained control and finished off Pompano Beach.
▪ Region 4-6A final — Jensen Beach d. TERRA 25-15, 25-9, 25-11: TERRA (17-4) fought back from a 12-0 deficit and trailed 16-8 in the third game, but it was not enough as the Wolves were dominated by Jensen Beach.
“This was a game we were expecting,” TERRA coach Vladimir Prado said. “The girls played against a great volleyball team. Jensen Beach is a well-established program that is always in state.”
TERRA, a fourth-year program, also fell in three games last year to Jensen Beach in the regional final.
▪ Region 4-2A final — Boca Christian d. Divine Savior 18-25, 25-18, 25-13: Boca Christian reached its first state semifinal since since 2006 with a victory against Divine Savior (18-4).
Junior Hannah Berry helped lead the way for Boca Christian with eight service points, eight kills and 11 digs, and Freshman Lindsey Rhoden had 11 service points, 11 digs and six aces.
For Divine Savior, outside hitter Alejandra Rodriguez had 23 kills. Ana Sofía Diaz contributed with 22 assists and four digs for the Sharks, and senior Andrea Santiago had 24 digs, four aces and two kills.