Miami-Dade High Schools

Opposing duo will join forces on UM’s squad

Former Miami-Dade County star Paulina Prieto is starting for Penn State, the fifth-ranked women’s volleyball team in the nation.

Ex-Broward stars Victoria McPherson and Leigh Andrew are starting for No. 11 North Carolina, which is off to a 13-0 start and has earned the highest ranking in school history.

And Sylvia Hernandez of Westminster Christian and Brooke McDermott of TERRA are playing their final year of high school ball before they join ex-Cardinal Gibbons star Caiti Donahoe at the University of Miami.

Is this the golden age for Miami-Dade and Broward volleyball talent?

Julie Doan, who coaches Hernandez at Westminster, said batches of talented players come in cycles, but she does think local volleyball is improving.

“My senior class of 2000 was real strong, and then it ran dry for a while,” Doan said. “This year’s senior class is crazy good all around the country.

“In Miami, girls are starting younger. There are a lot of 10-and-under teams, and by the time they get to high school, they know the game really well. I think we are finally catching up to Orlando.”

Hernandez, a 5-10 outside hitter, has had a sensational career. She has been starting on the Westminster varsity since the eighth grade and is a two-time Miami Herald Player of the Year.

Last week, she made the 12-player Berkeley Premier All-Tournament team. The Tampa tournament featured some of the top teams in the nation, including Mercy Academy (Louisville, Ky.), host Berkeley Prep (Tampa) and Bishop Moore (Orlando).

“She’s clearly the best player in Miami,” Doan said.

Of course, Vladimir Prado, who coaches McDermott at TERRA puts in a vote for his player.

McDermott, a 6-1 outside hitter, arrived at TERRA as a freshman, but the school was new at the time and didn’t yet have a varsity volleyball program. She played JV that first year and has started on the varsity since her sophomore season, earning first-team All-Dade in 2012.

This year, McDermott has led her team to a 12-0 start.

“When she arrived as a freshman, she could have played varsity at any school in the city,” Prado said. “She knew how to play, and right now she is playing at a college level.

“Sylvia is really good, but Brooke is the best player in Miami, in my opinion.”

The Miami Hurricanes, of course, are happy they will be getting both players.

What the Canes do with them will be interesting because Doan said the plan is to make Hernandez a defensive specialist, a position she has never played previously.

Miami currently starts senior Ryan Shaffer at libero, which means the position will be open next season and could be filled by Hernandez as a freshman.

Hernandez might be a bit undersized to play outside hitter for an NCAA tournament-type team, but Doan said she has the skills to be a good libero.

“She reads the ball well and is probably smarter than most of the hitters she plays against,” Doan said. “She knows where they are going with the ball and has a natural knack for being in the right spot. Her volleyball IQ really helps her.”

McDermott, who has the size to remain an outside hitter, has played club volleyball with Hernandez since age 13.

“I love playing with her,” McDermott said. “I think we are going to be a great combination at UM.”

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