High School Sports

St. Thomas Aquinas heads to Orlando looking for a state volleyball repeat

St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ volleyball team poses for a picture after a victory against Cardinal Gibbons in the BCAA Big 8 Tournament championship match Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 at Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale.
St. Thomas Aquinas girls’ volleyball team poses for a picture after a victory against Cardinal Gibbons in the BCAA Big 8 Tournament championship match Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015 at Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

While most kids were busy sleeping in on Wednesday morning with the day off for Veterans Day, the lights in the gym at St. Thomas Aquinas were on early as a small group of girls were hard at work practicing.

There are no days off for the Aquinas girls’ volleyball team these days. That’s because there is important business to tend to as the Raiders are busy prepping for Saturday.

That’s when they will travel to UCF in Orlando to take on Tampa Plant in the Class 7A state championship game at 4:35 p.m. following last Saturday’s tough, hard-fought win over defending 6A state champion Venice on the road in a state semifinal.

And with that will be an opportunity to win a state title for the fourth time in program history but the first time doing it in back-to-back style as Aquinas comes in as the defending 7A champion.

The nationally-ranked Raiders (30-2) look to jump on to a short list and become only the third girls’ volleyball team in Broward County history to win consecutive titles joining Cardinal Gibbons (multiple times, the last from 1992-96) and Pine Crest (2001-03).

“I don’t know if everybody realizes how hard it is to get to state, let alone a state final and win it,” said Aquinas coach Lisa Zielinski, who began her career with the Raiders 27 years ago and last week was inducted into the Broward County Sports Hall of Fame thanks in part to her 709 career wins.

“I’ve been fortunate to have done it three times and it would certainly be great to get that fourth one on Saturday.”

Zielinski can appreciate how tough it is.

Following her first two state titles in 1995 and 2004, the Raiders failed to even make it back to the state final four the following year.

This current task is a tall one as Plant (27-6) is one of the state’s most decorated program as its 10 state titles rank fourth all-time (Cardinal Gibbons, which plays Saturday, leads with 19). Eight of Plant’s titles came during a 10-year span between 2001-10.

The Panthers, who traveled to Tallahassee for their state semifinal, put together a great comeback to edge Leon in a five-set thriller and are led by seniors Ansley Gould (272 kills) and Bailey Wilson (230 digs) along with junior Kaylie Butts (64 blocks).

“It’s going to be tough match. Plant has won a bunch of state titles so it won’t be easy,” said junior outside hitter and Pepperdine commit Brook Bauer.

“We just have to stay focused mentally and play our game. We played a really tough schedule all season as some of our toughest matches were in (an out-of-town tournament) Chicago and Venice so we feel that should really help us on Saturday.”

Bauer and fellow junior outside hitter Allison Marble have been a virtual killing machine for the Raiders this season having combined for a total of 502 kills (Bauer 283, Marble 219).

Third on the team in kills is another junior, VCU commit Emma Dixon at 192 meaning the scary thing for opponents is that this big trio will be back for one more season in 2016.

“We’re really excited and looking forward to the opportunity in front of us,” said Marble, who has plenty of schools after her services including North Carolina State but has yet to commit.

“We’ve worked our tails off from day one to get to this point and it’s really important for us now to finish it off. We lost a few seniors last year and realized that some of us had to really step up including me and Brook. State titles are not just given to you, you have to go out and earn them and that’s what we plan on doing.”

Added Zielinski: “We’ve had so many challenges this season with our experience of being on the road and being battle-tested. We traveled to Venice, played Gibbons away, Wellington, Ransom, Palmer Trinity, had a trip to Chicago; so I feel very comfortable with us going up there on Saturday.

“But at the same time, I’ve been doing this for 28 seasons now and I know anything can happen. It’s whoever is playing better on that day. That’s what makes high school sports so exciting. You don’t know the results – you leave it on the floor and see. I’ve seen great teams fall and you don’t win just by rolling the ball out on the floor. We’ll need to be at our best.”

FOOTBALL

American Heritage senior defensive end Brian Burns received his official invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Wednesday at a ceremony at the school’s auditorium.

Burns (6-6, 215) becomes the fourth American Heritage player chosen to the event over the past three seasons. The game will be played Jan. 9 at the San Antonio Alamodome and televised on NBC.

"When I first was invited it kind of hit me," Burns said. "I’ve watched other players I’ve looked up to have a chance to play in this game so it’s really a blessing."

Burns has not yet chosen a college destination and said he’s leaving some official visits until after the end of the high school season. Burns has numerous offers, but mentioned LSU, FSU, Alabama, Georgia and Florida as some of his most attractive options.

Burns has 55 tackles and a team-best 13.5 sacks so far this season. He and the Patriots begin vying to become Broward County’s first school to win three state football titles in a row Friday when they open the postseason at home against Fort Pierce Westwood in a Region 4-5A quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m.

POSTSEASON FOOTBALL

THURSDAY

▪ Region 4-8A quarterfinal at Tropical: Coral Gables vs. Hialeah, 7; Region 4-4A semifinal at Traz: University School vs. Booker T. Washington, 7; GCFC championship: Key West at Archbishop McCarthy, 7

FRIDAY

▪ Region 4-8A quarterfinal: Southridge at Belen, 3; Region 4-8A quarterfinal at Harris:Southwest vs. South Dade, 7:30; Region 4-8A quarterfinal at Milander: Columbus vs. American, 7:30; Region 3-8A quarterfinal: Piper at Flanagan, 7:30; Region 3-8A quarterfinal: Plantation at Deerfield Beach, 7:30; Region 4-7A quarterfinal: Royal Palm Beach at St. Thomas Aquinas, 7:30; Region 4-7A quarterfinal: Blanche Ely at Dwyer, 7:30;Region 4-7A quarterfinal at Tropical: West Broward vs. Sunset, 7:30; Region 4-7A quarterfinal: Mater Academy at Nova, 7:30; Region 4-6A quarterfinal: Central at Boyd Anderson, 7:30; Region 4-6A quarterfinal at Traz: Dillard vs. Carol City, 7:30; Region 4-5A quarterfinal: Fort Pierce Westwood at American Heritage, 7:30; Region 4-5A quarterfinal:Hallandale at Riviera Beach Suncoast, 7:30; Region 4-4A semifinal: Gulliver at Belle Glade Glades Central, 7:30; Region 4-3A semifinal: Heritage-Delray at Westminster Christian, 2:30; Region 4-3A semifinal: Chaminade-Madonna at WPB Oxbridge, 7:30; Region 4-2A semifinal: Naples Community at Dade Christian, 7:30

SATURDAY

SFC championship at Pompano Beach: Calvary Christian vs. Coral Springs Charter, 7

SIGNINGS

American Heritage had four of its top athletes sign with colleges Wednesday as Hayley Duren (basketball) signed with Pepperdine, Ty Strafaci (golf) signed with Georgia Tech, Maria Merchan (golf) signed with USF and Melissa Rini (softball) signed with Caldwell University.

BOYS’ SOCCER

▪ Ransom Everglades 4, Chaminade Madonna 2: Nico Vecchi scored twice with Michael Colonna and Matias Junghahn each scoring once for the Raiders (4-0).

▪ Miami Springs 5, Norland 1: Cesar Frias netted four goals with Eduardo Lopez getting the other for the Hawks (3-2).

GIRLS’ SOCCER

▪ Killian 2, Coral Gables 2: Alyssa Storey and Jayda Hamilton each scored for Killian (2-2).

THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE

GIRLS’ SOCCER

Goleman at Northwestern, 2

Mourning at Hialeah Miami Lakes, 2

Posnack Hebrew Day at Hebrew Academy, 3

North Miami Beach at Westland, 3:30

Key West at Keys Gate, 3:30

Killian at South Dade, 3:30

Ronald Reagan High at Terra, 3:30

Homestead at Coral Reef, 3:30

Sunset at Mater Academy, 3:30

Palmetto at Ferguson, 3:30

Doral Academy at Miami Central, 3:30

Varela at Southridge, 3:30

Ransom-Everglades at Saint Brendan, 3:30

Miami Community at Palmer Trinity, 4

Hialeah Gardens at South Miami, 4

Riviera Prep at La Salle, 4

Doctors Charter at Archbishop Curley, 4

Greater Miami at Westwood Christian, 4

Pinecrest Prep at Somerset Charter, 4

Gulliver Schools at Carrollton, 4

Yeshiva at Hillel, 6

BOYS’ SOCCER

Coral Shores School at Barbara Goleman,3:30

Doral Academy at Belen, 3:30

Archbishop Coleman at Palmer Trinity, 3:30

Hillel at Sagemont, 3:30

Palm Glades Preparatory at Somerset, 4

Mourning at Hialeah Miami Lakes, 4

Pinecrest Prep at Somerset Charter, 5

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Coral Gables at Coral Park, 5

Divine Savior at Northwest Christian, 5

Krop at Hialeah, 5

Hebrew Academy at Hillel, 5

Pace at Edison, 5

Booker T. Washington at Sunset, 5

North Miami at Hialeah Gardens, 5

North Miami Beach at Mourning, 5

Miami Senior at American, 5

Southridge Sr at Coral Reef, 5:30

Palmetto at Varela, 6

Schoolhouse Prep at Divine Savior, 7

Southwest at Lourdes Academy, 7

Jackson at Ferguson, 7:30

South Dade at Killian, 7:30

Reagan at TERRA, 7:30

South Miami at Braddock, 7:30

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