Miami-Dade High Schools

Miami-Dade volleyball contenders vying for return to state

Palmer Trinity senior volleyball standout Ashley Quero, a 6-1 middle hitter, is committed to the University of Delaware.
Palmer Trinity senior volleyball standout Ashley Quero, a 6-1 middle hitter, is committed to the University of Delaware. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Palmer Trinity saw last November how good it had to become to win a state volleyball championship.

The Falcons made their second-ever appearance in the state finals, but lost in three games to national powerhouse Gainesville PK Yonge.

With nearly its entire roster returning, Palmer Trinity believes it is strong enough to earn another chance this season.

“We’re looking forward to another good season,” Palmer Trinity coach William Gonzalez said. “We have a good balance with our offensive and defensive systems both attacks and blocks.”

The Falcons are led by University of Delaware commitment Ashley Quero, a 6-1 middle hitter, 5-5 senior setter Juliette Hamilton and senior outside hitters Grace Seide and Daniela Diaz.

Palmer Trinity has advanced to at least the state semifinals three times since 2005, and figures to be the favorite on the southern half of the bracket in Class 4A.

Palmer isn’t the only team nicknamed Falcons that return poised to make a run at state.

SOARING FALCONS

Over at Ferguson, star outside hitter Michelle Cuervo is poised to lead the Falcons to state in her final high school season. Cuervo committed to Quinnipiac University in the offseason and, along with her sister, sophomore 5-7 setter Melanie Cuervo, should be among the state’s best in Class 8A once again.

Ferguson returns a strong core of players around the Cuervo sisters including seniors Alexandra Gonzalez, Kasandra Lopez and sophomore Grace Ieremia.

LOADED CLASS

Class 5A again figures to have the toughest group of teams in South Florida.

Ransom Everglades and Westminster Christian each return talented squads that will battle each other in a loaded district and vie to end Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons’ reign as state champions.

Ransom returns Notre Dame commitment Sydney Bent, a 5-10 junior outside hitter and the lone remaining player from the Raiders’ 2013 state championship team. Senior middle hitter Debbie Ajagbe, a state champion shot put thrower in track, joins Bent along with sophomore setter Aryanah Diaz and junior Erin Bakes, a multisport star committed to USC for lacrosse.

Westminster Christian lost to Ransom in last year’s regional semifinals and returns numerous key players from that team led by senior Nikkia Benitez, the Miami Herald’s Player of the Year.

Benitez has more than 10 offers from top Division I programs, and is joined by junior outside hitter Priscilla Hernandez. Benitez and Hernandez each played in the USA Volleyball Junior national championships this summer.

Seniors Quinn Blanco, Sophia Poveda and Gabrielle Miller, and junior Ingrid Savola complement a Warriors squad trying to win its first state title since 2013.

Gulliver will try to upstage Ransom and Gulliver in the district led by New Mexico commit Sarah Lobo and Bucknell commit Isabell Lamus.

St. Brendan, led by junior outside hitter Marcela Fernandez, moved up to Class 7A and appears to have a solid chance for a deep playoff push.

Season outlook

Key dates

Sept. 9: Coral Park Invitational

Oct. 7: Patriot Invitational at Florida Christian

Oct. 14-15: Smoothie King Invitational at Ransom

Oct. 10-13: GMAC championship

Oct. 17-21: Districts

Oct. 25: Regional quarterfinals (Class 9A-5A)

Oct. 26: Regional semifinals (Class 4A-1A)

Oct. 28: Regional semifinals (Class 9A-5A)

Oct. 29: Regional finals (Class 4A-1A)

Nov. 1: Regional finals (Class 9A-5A)

Nov. 5: State semifinals

Nov. 11-12: State championships at site TBA

2015 STATE CHAMPIONS

Class 8A: Winter Springs; 7A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 6A: Jensen Beach; 5A: Orlando Bishop Moore; 4A: Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons; 3A: Gainesville PK Yonge; 2A: Boynton Beach Lake Worth Christian; 1A: Sneads.

TOP RETURNEES

MH Debbie Ajagbe, Ransom Everglades, 5-10, Sr.; OH Nikkia Benitez, Westminster Christian, 5-11, Sr.; OH Sydney Bent, Ransom Everglades, 5-10, Jr.; S Quinn Blanco, Westminster Christian, 5-9, Sr.; OH Mia Boloix, MAST, 5-11, Sr.; OH Michelle Cuervo, Ferguson, 5-10, Sr.; S Melanie Cuervo, Ferguson, 5-7, So.; OH Julia Decker, Palmetto, 5-10, Sr.; S-OH Aryannah Diaz, Ransom Everglades, 5-5, So.; MH Jocelyn Garcia, Southwest, 5-11, Sr.; S Juliette Hamilton, Palmer Trinity, 5-5, Sr.; OH Priscilla Hernandez, Westminster Christian, 5-10, Jr.; S Sarah Lobo, Gulliver, 5-10, Sr.; MH Ashley Quero, Palmer Trinity, 6-1, Sr.; OH Lauren Potter, Gulliver, 6-0, Jr.; OH Grace Seide, Palmer Trinity, 5-10, Sr.

Others to watch: S-OH Erin Bakes, Ransom Everglades, Jr.; MH Brittany Beckelheimer, Florida Christian, 6-2, Sr.; MH Indira Dandridge, Miami Country Day, 6-2, Sr.; OH Milana Datieva, Mourning, 5-8, So.; OH Stefany Desroches, Coral Reef, 5-8, So.; OH Daniela Diaz, Palmer Trinity, 6-1, Sr.; OH Marcela Fernandez, St. Brendan, 5-10, Jr.; OH Alexandra Gonzalez, Ferguson, 5-8, Sr.; MH Isabell Lamus, Gulliver, 6-0, Jr.; LIB Alex Peterson, Lourdes, 5-4, Sr.; OH-MH Sophia Poveda, Westminster Christian, 5-9, Sr.; OH Gabriela Socarras, 5-7, Sr.

SEASON OUTLOOKS

CLASS 9A

FERGUSON (Coach Greg Shanower, 11th year). Last year: 27-5 (State semifinalist). Top players: OH Michelle Cuervo, 5-10, Sr.; OH Alexandra Gonzalez, 5-8, Sr.; S Melanie Cuervo, 5-7, So.; MH Kasandra Lopez, 5-8, Sr.; MH Grace Ieremia, 6-0, So.; DS Rachel Serrano, 5-7, Jr.

SOUTHWEST Last year: Regional semifinalist. Top players: Jacqueline Garcia, Sr.

LOURDES (Coach Pedro Penate, 6th year, 78-33). Last year: 12-8. Top players: LIB Alex Peterson, 5-4, Sr.; OH Ava Erickson, 5-7, Sr.; OH Caro Baca, 5-7, Jr.; MH Denise Collins, 5-10, Sr.; S Gaby Berry, 5-4, Jr.; S Sabrina Garcia, 5-3, So.

CORAL REEF (Coach Yasmin Ortiz, 9th year, 149-62). Last year: 18-8. Top players: OH Stefany Desroches, 5-8, So.; MH Dalayni Etienne, 5-8, Fr.; LIB Lisa Mesa, 5-4, Jr.

MIAMI HIGH (Coach Nick Baumgarten, 1st year). Last year: 15-6. Top players: OH-S Diana Aguilar, 5-8, Sr.; OH-S Nathaly Fernandez, 5-8, Sr.; LIB Ashley Rodriguez, 5-4, Fr.

CLASS 8A

MOURNING (Coach Dee Rey, 9th year at ATM, 15th overall). Last year: 16-5 (Regional finalist). Top players: OH Milana Datieva, 5-8, So.; OH-MH Camila Rubinovich, 5-8, Sr.; OH-S Karla Schaefer, 5-8, Sr.

REAGAN (Coach Cindy Lopez, 1st year at RR). Last year: 12-5 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: OH Andrea Bernal, Jr.; Oh Sara Requena, Jr.; LIB Isabella Pacheco, Jr.; MH Maria Gutic, Jr.; S Wilnelis Giusti, So.; ATH Veronica Spinelli, So.

CLASS 7A

ST. BRENDAN (Coach Julio Arnaiz, 5th year, 56-31). Last year: 18-8. Top players: OH Marcela Fernandez, 5-10, Jr.; DS Nikki Garcia, 5-3, Sr.; S Camila Treptow, 5-6, Jr.; DS Daniela Piloto, 5-6, Sr.; DS Lourdes Saravia, 5-3, Sr.; OH Jenna English, 5-7, So.

TERRA (Coach Crystal Forjan, 2nd year at TERRA, 7th overall). Last year: N/A. Top players: OH Elyse Anaya, Sr.; MH Sophia Rodriguez, Jr.; S Chelsea Ferreira, Jr.; LIB Andrea Gil, Jr.; OH Daniela Myers, Sr.

CLASS 5A

WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Julie Doan, 12th year, 264-70). Last year: Regional semifinalist. Top players: OH Nikkia Benitez, 5-11, Sr.; OH Priscilla Hernandez, 5-10, Jr.; S Quinn Blanco, 5-9, Sr.; OH-MH Sophia Poveda, 5-9, Sr.; S Ingrid Savola, 5-10, Jr.; MH-OH Gabrielle Miller, 5-9, Sr.

RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Roger Peluso, 17th year at RE, 27th overall). Last year: 21-10 (Regional finalist). Top players: OH Sydney Bent, 5-10, Jr.; MH Debbie Ajagbe, 5-10, Sr.; S-OH Aryanah Diaz, 5-5, So.; S-OH Erin Bakes, 5-7, Jr.; OH Ellie Carrera-Justiz, 5-9, So.; LIB Alina Pedroso, 5-5, Jr.

CARROLLTON (Coach Matt Althage, 5th year at CAR, 13th overall). Last year: 12-15. Top players: OH Gabriela Socarras, 5-7, Sr.; LIB Rebecca Fernandez, 5-5, Jr.; S Victoria Figarola, 5-6, Sr.; OH Lucy Hornbacher, 5-11, Sr.; OH Andreina Rodriguez, 5-4, Sr.; S Sofphia DeRosa, 5-4, Sr.

GULLIVER (Coach Potter, 6th year at GP, 18th overall, 191-80). Last year: 17-8. Top players: S Sarah Lobo, 5-10, Sr.; MH Isabell Lamus, 6-0, Jr.; OH Lauren Potter, 6-0, Jr.; DS Lara Arvesu, 5-5, So.; MH Naomi Von Gerlach, 6-0, Jr.; OH Isabella Sakran, 6-0, Fr.

CLASS 4A

PALMER TRINITY (Coach William Gonzalez, 14th year at PT, 25th overall, 254-76). Last year: 19-7 (State runner-up). Top players: MH Ashley Quero, 6-1, Sr.; OH Grace Seide, 5-10, Sr.; S Juliette Hamilton, 5-5, Sr.; OH Daniela Diaz, 6-1, Sr.; LIB Julia Cohen, 5-5, So.; OH Hope Morales, 5-6, Sr.

MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Valerie Martinez, 1st year). Last year: 17-12 (Regional finalist). Top players: MH Indira Dandridge, 6-2, Sr.; MH Nyasia John, 6-0, Jr.; S Sasha Jenkins-St. Prix, 5-8, Sr.

FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Beth King, 12th year, 198-95). Last year: 20-7 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: MH Brittany Beckelheimer, 6-2, Sr.; LIB Nicole Fontela, 5-5, Sr.; S Gianna Ortiz, 5-6, So.; OH Karina Tohme, 5-5, Jr.

RIVIERA PREP (Coach Emilio Rodriguez, 5th year at RP, 8th overall). Last year: 17-4. Top players: OH Nico Maietto, 5-10, Jr.; S Vicki Caldera, 5-6, Sr.; LIB Alessandra Iurman, 5-5, So.; OH Samantha Martinez, 5-8, Jr.

SLAM ACADEMY (Coach Erica Cole, 1st year). Last year: 2-20. Top players: S Sam Rodriguez, 5-4, So.; OH Nicole Perez, 5-6, Fr.; LIB Ana Urueta, 5-2, Sr.

CLASS 3A

DIVINE SAVIOR (Coach Matt Willems, 3rd year at DS, 12th overall, 132-123). Last year: 16-4 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: OH Fabiana Castro, 5-8, Fr.; S Sabrina Gonzalez, 5-7, Fr.; MH Sofia Lugo, 5-10, So.

CLASS 2A

MIAMI CHRISTIAN (Coach Natalia Davila, 2nd year at MC, 3rd overall, 30-10). Last year: 8-6. Top players: DS-S Andrea Acevedo, 5-3, Fr.; OH Isabella Gomez Depana, 5-9, So.; OH Allison Bean, 5-8, Jr.; LIB Jacqueline Gonzalez, 5-2, Jr.

WESTWOOD CHRISTIAN (Coach Philip Waldron, 1st year). Last year: First year. Top players: S Lauren Amat, 5-1, So.; OH Christina Molina, So.

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