Coral Reef’s girls haven’t been the tallest or most menacing volleyball team on the court this season.
But their resilience and ability to stick to their game plan have carried them within one match of returning to the state final four.
For the second playoff match in a row, the Barracudas outlasted their opponent in five sets.
On Wednesday night led by senior Kristine Rios’ 15 kills, 23 assists and 13 digs, Coral Reef beat defending state semifinalist Ferguson 18-25, 25-18, 25-19, 16-25, 15-9 to advance to the regional finals for the second time in three seasons.
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Coral Reef (24-4) will host West Broward on Saturday at 2 p.m. and try to advance to state for the second time in three years.
“It’s good to see this team overcome together,” Rios said. “We just needed positive reinforcement before that last game.”
The Barracudas came back from a 1-0 deficit after dropping the first game and later overcame a poor performance in the fourth game.
Rios, senior Trina Malone and junior Lexi Mesa led the Barracudas in the fifth to take control quickly with a 7-3 lead and then hang on for the victory when Mesa hit a ball off Ferguson’s outside blockers.
Malone finished with eight kills, and Mesa totaled 14 kills and 20 digs.
Junior Alana Arabitg totaled seven blocks and four kills as well as helping neutralize Ferguson’s attack late in the match.
Wednesday’s match marked the third consecutive season Coral Reef and Ferguson met in the playoffs.
Last season, Ferguson defeated Coral Reef in the regional quarterfinals in five games.
Coral Reef avenged that loss Wednesday in five games a week after beating Southwest also in five.
“It’s a huge win for us, and it’s good to see the team chemistry,” Coral Reef coach Yasmin Ortiz said. “After that fourth game, I told them just focus on your game. We can only control our side. I told them stick to our plan. That was a really good game.”
Region 4-6A semifinal: TERRA d. Alonzo Mourning 25-10, 25-21, 23-25, 25-21: Rachel Santacruz rallied the Wolves to a four-game victory over Mourning and set up a rematch with Jensen Beach for the Region 16 championship. The Wolves (22-4) lost the regional title at Jensen Beach last season but hope the home-court advantage will be the difference on Saturday.
Santacruz had 11 kills, seven digs and an ace. It was her two kills at the net late in the fourth game that keyed the victory.
“It became clear that if we did not win tonight, we would not be able to get our revenge against Jensen Beach,” Santacruz said. “The seniors would not accept that, and I tried to lead the charge.”
Coach Vladimir Prado made a surprise decision to start Santacruz as she usually provides a spark off the bench.
“Rachel gave us exactly what we needed tonight,” Prado said. “She made the most of her opportunity and came up big when we needed it.”
Mourning (18-5) was led by Mary Shelow and Indira Dandridge, who provided good defense at the net.
Region 4-7A semifinal: Delray Beach Atlantic d. Monarch 24-26, 24-26, 25-14, 25-20, 15-10: Atlantic’s Paige Schwendeman capped a dramatic comeback on the road to lead the Eagles over Monarch (22-5). Schwendeman had an ace in the fifth set to send the Eagles into the regional finals where they will face St. Thomas Aquinas for the second year in a row.
Atlantic (20-4) nearly came back to win the first set after being down seven points and then squandered a 21-14 lead in the second set.
The Eagles rallied behind senior middle blocker Chelsea Hudson and sophomore middle blocker Kenidi Ferguson to take the next two sets. The towering duo combined for 25 kills, four blocks and five aces.
Atlantic jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the fifth set behind two Schwendeman aces and pulled away from the Knights to seal the victory.
“We finally settled down and controlled the ball,” Atlantic coach Austin Capi said. “First two games we just could not pass the volleyball.’’
Region 4-7A semifinal: St. Thomas Aquinas d. Ronald Reagan 25-8, 25-10, 25-8: A St. Thomas Aquinas victory against Reagan was never in doubt as the Raiders rolled into the Class 7A regional semifinal. Aquinas (25-4) used its superior size, speed and execution to make quick work of the Bison and advance to a regional final to play Atlantic on Saturday at 2.
“I thought we served tough and were able to transition very well with their off-speed stuff and turn it into an attack,” Aquinas coach Lisa Zielinski said. “We stayed pretty offensive.”
Brook Bauer had eight kills, seven assists, and five digs while Kara Mason had 12 kills and four digs for the Raiders. Courtney Charneco had six kills.