High School Sports

Palmer Trinity girls’ volleyball faces task in quest for program’s first state title

The Palmer Trinity volleyball team is pictured last season.
The Palmer Trinity volleyball team is pictured last season. File photo

The main entrance to the Palmer Trinity gym has a lobby that’s home to the school’s athletic history.

Displayed proudly on a table is a centerpiece with several of the girls’ volleyball team’s championship trophies with a volleyball autographed by some of the school’s past players placed in the middle.

One trophy is still missing — a state championship.

Palmer Trinity School has yet to win a state championship in volleyball.

Palmer Trinity gets another chance Friday when it takes on Gainesville PK Yonge in the Class 3A state championship match at 5:05 p.m. at The Venue at UCF in Orlando. The Falcons (20-7) are making their second appearance in a state final and first since 2008.

“This team is definitely in the right frame of mind heading into this match,” Falcons coach William Gonzalez said. “The leadership from the first day of practice has been there and they haven’t lost focus throughout the season.”

The Falcons moved down from Class 4A to 3A this season, clearing a slightly more favorable path to the state final, but nonetheless played some of the state’s best during a tough regular-season schedule that included matches against St. Thomas Aquinas, Maitland Orangewood Christian, Pompano Beach and Cypress Bay.

Junior Ashley Quero, a 6-2 hitter who can play middle or outside, has led the Falcons. Quero, an early University of Delaware commitment, leads the team in kills with 240 and has 212 digs.

Grace Hibshman, a 6-1 middle hitter and one of only two seniors on the team, has 93 kills and 87 blocks and has received interest from Harvard, Cal State Fullerton, Bentley and Columbia universities.

Junior outside hitter Grace Seide has 137 kills and 156 digs and has drawn interest from Colorado State, Eastern Illinois, Stanford and Armstrong State. Junior outside hitter Daniela Diaz, who is being looked at by Indiana, La Salle and Princeton, has 106 kills and 95 digs. Junior setter Juliette Hamilton has 816 assists, 50 kills and 112 digs.

“We all worked at our own position and work as a team to get better,” Quero said. “We didn’t worry too much about individual accomplishments.”

Gonzalez knows his team is facing a huge challenge.

PK Yonge (30-1) is ranked No. 4 by Prepvolleyball.com and No. 7 nationally by MaxPreps, and has four starters already committed to colleges — including three to Division I schools.

The Blue Wave is looking for its fourth state title and second in a row after beating Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest for the Class 4A title last season.

Sophomore Amanda Phegley, a 6-4 middle hitter who has committed early to Penn State, presents literally the tallest obstacle for Palmer Trinity.

Although Phegley often delivers the final blow in the Blue Wave’s attack, it’s 5-9 senior setter Sammy Mueller, a University of Tampa commitment, who conducts it.

And when the attacks come from the outside hitters, it’s usually 5-10 senior Jac’cara Walker, a Marshall commitment, and 5-11 senior Gabby O’Connell, a University of North Florida commitment, doing the damage.

PK Yonge has beaten some of South Florida’s best already this season, with wins over Class 7A state finalist St. Thomas Aquinas, Class 4A regional finalist Ransom Everglades, 4A regional semifinalist Pine Crest, as well as state powers Venice, Winter Springs and Orlando Bishop Moore.

Despite the impressive résumé, Quero said the team is keeping the focus on itself and executing its own game plan effectively.

“We’re just worrying about what we need to do,” Quero said. “We’re not looking at what they do or rankings or anything. We’re just going to do our thing and we know that if we each do what we’re supposed to do, it will work out.”

If you go

What: The state girls’ volleyball finals

When: Friday and 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 p.m.; 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Tampa Plant, 4:35; 8A: Jupiter vs. Winter Springs, 7:05