High School Sports

Cardinal Gibbons girls’ volleyball team vying for 20th state title

Cardinal Gibbons will face Ocala Trinity Catholic for the Class 4A girls’ volleyball title 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015 at UCF.
Cardinal Gibbons will face Ocala Trinity Catholic for the Class 4A girls’ volleyball title 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015 at UCF. For the Miami Herald

It’s the number Barry Sanders wore in football and Mike Schmidt had on his baseball jersey. In Roman numerals, it’s XX, and, scientifically speaking, it’s the atomic number of calcium.

But to the Cardinal Gibbons girls’ volleyball team, No. 20 has a special significance all its own: “When I hear the number 20, I think of getting another banner on our wall – winning another state championship,” said Sarah Martin, a 6-foot-2 senior who has been Gibbons’ setter since her freshman year.

No Florida volleyball program has won as many titles as the 19 banners that Gibbons has raised to the rafters. But the Chiefs (24-7) haven’t won one since 2010, and that’s something they will attempt to correct this Saturday at 9 a.m. when Gibbons (24-7) faces Ocala Trinity Catholic (26-5) for the Class 4A title at UCF.

Martin said playing in a big college arena won’t faze her team, which has 10 seniors, including five starters.

“Yes, the lights may be bigger or brighter,” said Martin, who has a 4.2 GPA. “But we could play in a parking lot or in an Olympic stadium – it doesn’t matter.”

The Chiefs have played a tough schedule this season, facing two reigning state champions – losing to 7A champ St. Thomas Aquinas and beating 6A title-holder Venice.

Gibbons also took down Tampa’s Berkeley Prep in last week’s state semifinals, winning a five-set affair against a program tied for second in Florida with 15 state titles. In fact, the last time Berkeley Prep won state in 2011, it beat Gibbons in the semifinals.

“Part of us was thinking, ‘We have to get revenge’,” Martin said of the win over Berkeley. “It’s our turn this time.”

She could be right.

Gibbons has a tall and talented team. The Chiefs have four starters taller than 6-foot. Trinity Catholic’s tallest starter is 5-11.

In addition, Chiefs’ coach Kathryn Reeber, who is in her eighth season, has five college-bound seniors on her roster for the first time in her career.

Martin is going to James Madison; Bailey Pearlman, a 6-1 outside hitter that Martin said she’s known since “we were in diapers”, is headed to Delaware; Daniella Molinari, a 6-2 middle blocker, chose Cal State Northridge; Kassie Akouri-Tejedor, a 5-6 setter, will play for Long Island; and Aya Lechin, a 5-6 defensive specialist, is East Tennessee State-bound.

The only underclassman in the starting lineup is junior Jade Jeffrey, a 6-2 opposite hitter.

Trinity Catholic is led by 5-5 senior libero Amber Weber, a South Florida recruit, and 5-8 senior outside hitter Ryan Tuten, who is considering Wake Forest and Georgia Southern.

The Celtics, who also start four juniors, lost to Venice and Pine Crest this season. Gibbons was 3-1 against those two schools.

“That gives us a little comfort,” Martin said. “But we still need to play our best.”

Martin was in seventh grade the last time Gibbons won state. Her sister was a team manager and Martin made the trip up to Lakeland to watch the event.

“I was a very bad volleyball player at the time,” Martin said. “But it was the coolest thing ever to go there and watch those seniors win state.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized what a big deal that was. I want to have that same feeling. We’re a very close group of seniors. We want to win state and do it for each other because we know it’s our last time playing together.”

If you go

What: The state girls’ volleyball finals.

When: Friday-Saturday.

Where: The Venue at UCF, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando.

Admission: $7.

2014 state champions – Class 8A: Bradenton Manatee; 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas; 6A: Venice; 5A: Jacksonville Bishop Kenny; 4A: Gainesville PK Yonge; 3A: Clearwater Central Catholic; 2A: Ocala St. John Lutheran; 1A: Sneads.

Friday’s championships – Class 1A: Mayo Lafayette vs. Sneads, 12:05 p.m.; 2A: Lake Worth Christian vs. St. John Lutheran, 2:35; 3A: Palmer Trinity vs. PK Yonge, 5:05.

Saturday’s championships – Class 4A: Cardinal Gibbons vs. Ocala Trinity Catholic, 9:05 a.m.; 5A: Orlando Bishop Moore vs. Bishop Kenny, 11:35 a.m.; 6A: Jensen Beach vs. New Port Richey Mitchell, 2:05; 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Tampa Plant, 4:35; 8A: Jupiter vs. Winter Springs, 7:05.