On Monday night at The Purple Palace, the Gainesville volleyball team welcomed rival Buchholz on Senior Night.
But in the first set, the visitors did their best to spoil what was an emotional night for the Hurricanes before falling, 27-25, in the opening set.
The Hurricanes used the momentum to sweep the Bobcats, 27-25, 25-18, 25-23, in a Class 6A-District 4 game.
“It was fun,” said Gainesville coach Chancie Vice. “Buchholz always brings it when we play each other, but the girls definitely fought hard together. I was very proud of them.”
It was the underclassmen who helped ensure the seniors would come out on top on this special night, which honored three players before the match (Ta’Niya Walker, Mia Sims and Jasmine Ver Bust).
Gainesville junior Brinkley Kinsell led both teams with 14 kills.
“I think it really made their night,” Kinsell said of her seniors. “It’s always nice to win, especially in the Purple Palace, especially for these girls that we love so much. It’s just a really nice feeling.”
Fellow junior Charlotte Gravlee (4 digs, 3 blocks, one ace) finished second with 11 kills.
“It was an emotional game because of our seniors, everyone was crying before we went out there,” Vice said. “But I told them, ‘the best gift you can give your seniors is focusing on our fundamentals and executing tonight,’ so I was very proud of our execution and that goes back to our setters spreading the ball around and our hitters being able to execute.”
It was a big night for Gainesville sophomore setter Chloe Petrick, who finished with 41 assists.
“I think my setter did a really good job of making smarter decisions this game and I think that was able to contribute to us moving the ball around and our hitters executing, all of them, all around,” Vice said.
Junior Meme Davis added seven kills, and her sister Rere, a sophomore, finished with 23 digs to lead the Hurricanes (18-6). Junior Rylan Hauptman added 17 digs.
“Tonight, Rere played phenomenal,” Vice said. “I told her the goal was to not get aced tonight and she did not get aced a single time tonight and they had some aggressive serves. On top of that, she was able to not get mentally frustrated with herself, which is a huge building block we talk about so much with our defensive players is to not get in your head because as soon as you get in your head you can get shut down by a server really easily. Volleyball is a game of runs.”
The visiting Bobcats (11-11) stayed locked in, making it difficult for the ‘Canes to go on many runs, but they also rarely led all night and never led in the second set.
“We were down a million, it feels like, in all of the games and the girls dug themselves back in the game and put them in a position to play but we broke down mentally,” said first-year Buchholz coach Joe Lamagno. “For my team, it’s not a physical thing. We’ve got a lot of good athletes, it’s the mental game that we’re trying to get past.”
The Bobcats gave themselves a chance in the opening set when senior Jaida Wilburn’s block at the net gave Buchholz a 25-24 lead.
However, Meme Davis tied it at 25-25 with a kill, and following a block at the net by Petrick and Gravlee for a 26-25 lead, Davis finished off the set with another kill.
Then in the final set, Buchholz led 22-19.
Down 23-21, Kinsell had a kill. Then she finished off the match with the decisive backline kill.
“I think that our defense just really performed very well,” Kinsell said. “We didn’t get down on ourselves. We fought until the end and played as a team together.
Gainesville swept the two-game regular season series against Buchholz, although the two teams could see each other again in next week’s district tournament.
“It’s always great to play them,” Kinsell said. “They’re an awesome rivalry. It brings a lot of crowds. It brings a lot of energy to the Purple Palace and it’s just a really fun game always.”
GHS, which is ranked sixth in the state in Class 6A by MaxPreps, will close out the regular season this Thursday at home against The Rock. The first serve is at 6 p.m.
Junior Jordan Czaplewski had a team-leading nine kills for Buchholz, which hosts Oak Hall School in the regular season finale at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Then it’s on to district tournament play.
“We’ve got to clean up our errors,” Lamagno said. “Some of it is like really simple, basic stuff. It’s tiny stuff that some people take for granted.”
Lamagno noted communication is the biggest thing his team needed to focus on moving forward. If they don’t talk with each other it will cost them games.
“If we fix that, and we can get a little bit tougher mentally, then I like our chances,” he said. “They’re a good team. Our district is tough.”
The Hurricanes and Bobcats are joined in the district by Forest (Ocala), Matanzas (Palm Coast), and New Smyrna Beach (18-2), which is the No. 3 overall team in Florida according to MaxPreps.
It’s certainly possible that Buchholz and Gainesville could face each other in the semifinals with the season on the line.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times so I’m hoping we don’t see them again,” Vice said. “But if we do, at least we know that we can compete and actually perform and put it to them.”