Miami-Dade High Schools

Westminster Christian survives Palmer in five games

Westminster Christian’s volleyball battles with Palmer Trinity in recent years often have been intense.

But none had gone the distance until Tuesday night.

Westminster proved to be the more resilient team in the end, surviving a major comeback effort by visiting Palmer and winning a five-game thriller (25-20, 25-23, 17-25, 16-25, 15-8) in a Region 4-3A semifinal.

The Warriors (20-9), the defending Class 3A state champions, will host Melbourne Central Catholic on Saturday in the regional finals. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.

“This is always a match where we are very emotionally involved because of our rivalry,” Westminster Christian coach Julie Doan said. “Our demeanor was negative in the fourth game, but we stayed positive and turned it around in the fifth.”

Senior Sammy Ceballos led the Warriors with 18 kills, 17 service points and 19 digs. Ceballos was the lone returning starter from last year’s state championship team, but several other players have developed and assumed key roles this season.

Senior libero Jessica Moo Young recorded the match-clinching ace and finished with two to go along with 15 digs and 20 service points.

Junior Isabella Hernandez totaled nine kills, 16 digs and 18 service points, sophomore Nikkia Benitez had 13 kills, six digs and 10 service points, and senior Courtney Clausell had nine kills and two blocks.

“This is not a team that does well when we are tense,” Doan said. “Last season’s team didn’t mind the situation, but this team does its best when it settles down and just plays its game.”

Westminster defeated Palmer Trinity for the fifth consecutive season in the regional semifinals. The two rivals met in this round for the eighth year in a row.

None of those matches had gone five games prior to Tuesday.

“We’ve been working hard over the past couple of weeks for this result,” Moo Young said. “Palmer always gives us great competition and we always look forward to it.”

Palmer Trinity (20-8) made it so when it rallied from a 2-0 deficit by taking control of the third game. The Falcons went on a 10-2 run led stellar play from senior Ellie Nosich and sophomore Ashley Quero.

Westminster Christian appeared poised to take control of the fourth game and finish the match when it took a 9-2 lead.

But the Warriors made several errors and Palmer continued to serve and receive more effectively scoring 20 of the next 24 points.

“All we needed to do was to take a breath and relax,” Doan said. “Our core which is our serve and receive was awful in the fourth game. We settled down and picked it up in the fifth.”

Westminster settled down pulled away to win the match scoring eight of the final 10 points led by three timely kills from Clausell.

“We made a lot of errors, but we kept talking throughout the match and never pulled apart,” Ceballos said. “We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year and we got it done.”