Broward High Schools

St. Thomas Aquinas volleyball heading back to a familiar place: The state championship

The St. Thomas Aquinas girls volleyball team poses after winning their Class 6A state semifinal contest on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.
The St. Thomas Aquinas girls volleyball team poses after winning their Class 6A state semifinal contest on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. For the Miami Herald

Not even a long injury list could slow down the St. Thomas Aquinas girls volleyball team.

Despite suffering numerous setbacks all season and having lost two starters in the last week — including outside hitter Olivia Mogridge, who led the team in kills — the Raiders never flinched.

They cruising to a 3-1 (25-14, 19-25, 25-14, 25-12) win over Winter Springs in a Class 6A state semifinal Saturday afternoon in the St. Thomas gym, dominating most of the match.

The defending state champion Raiders (24-7) head back to Fort Myers next weekend to take on Tallahassee Leon (which defeated Venice in the other semi) in the 6A state championship match on at 5 p.m. Friday at Suncoast Credit Union Arena. They’ll also be looking to win their fifth state title in the last six years.

“We got hit with a lot of little stuff all season and just this past week lost a few more key starters so these girls proved how resilient they are today by coming out here and getting this done,” said Aquinas head coach Lisa Zielinski, who recorded career win No. 800 earlier this season and now has 819 in her 32 years running the program. “What you saw out there today was how good our depth is and having a bunch of girls that really believe in each other. You can get away with matches during the regular season when you’re short-handed but when you get this deep into the playoffs, you’re up against high-caliber teams and you’ve got to really want it and our girls did.”

Zielinski watched her girls dominate the first set but then take their foot off the pedal in the second as Winter Springs (20-11) led almost from the start, winning 25-19.

That was the end of that as the Raiders put the wheels back on and dominated the next two sets to close it out.

“I guess we kind of fell back a little in the second set so we kind of had to re-check ourselves at that point,” said junior outside hitter Lilly Costigan, who finished with nine kills and three blocks. “We know how resilient we are because we’ve had to overcome a lot of these injuries and a lot of us have had to play different positions so we were confident we would get it back together and we did.”

“We all had to step up up today, especially our hitters,” said Meredith Dixon, who led the way with 16 kills and two blocks. “This is where all of our hard practices pay off because we were ready and prepared to move around and play different positions.”

Also turning in a big day for the Raiders were Erin Engel (28 assists), Alyssa McBean (20 digs) and Zy’Aire Barr (nine kills)

3A STATE SEMIFINAL

The challenge was a big one for the Westminster Christian girls’ volleyball team, but one they were ultimately up to.

Traveling to North Palm Beach to take on nationally-ranked Benjamin which brought a 23-1 record into the match, the Warriors turned in an outstanding effort, upsetting the Bucaneers 3-1 (26-24, 25-21, 15-25, 25-23) to punch their ticket to the state championship game next weekend.

Westminster (25-4) will look for its third state title and first since 2016 when the Warriors take on Sarasota Cardinal Mooney on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Suncoast Credit Union in Fort Myers.

“We knew that Benjamin would a big tough, hard-hitting team and our staff worked very hard to prepare our girls for tough situations, said WC head coach Julie Doan. “They responded well and showed a lot of toughness competing hard the entire way which is what it was going to take to beat a team like that.”

Saski Hernandez led the way for Westminster with a huge day, recording 27 kills, 17 digs and 13 service points. Trinity Gibson (nine kills, five blocks), Sydney Bond (23 assists, five kills, 11 service points), Alyah Cadavid (20 service points, five aces, five kills) and Emily Matias (nine kills 21 service points, seven digs) also came through with big performances.

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