Five area volleyball teams advance to regional finals

In a rematch of the Oct. 21 Class 1A-District 7 championship contest that Union County won in five sets, Tuesday night’s 1A Region 4 Semifinal didn’t disappoint. But this time it was Newberry that came out on top in five, 25-22, 28-26, 22-25, 18-25, 15-13.

The Panthers (18-10) eked out the first two games, including a second-game nail biter that neither team took more than four-point lead, before the hosting Union County Tigers (14-9) clawed their way back with a third game and snatched all the momentum in the fourth game taking an early 13-point lead as Newberry never got closer than six points.

Newberry celebrates the match win

In the fifth and deciding game, Newberry swung the momentum in their favor taking a 6-2 lead behind two kills and a block from Faith Wilson. Union County would rally to tie it at 10 and 13 before the Panthers broke the tie on a block from setter Abby Pace and then earned the match-winning point.

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“[Union County] is so good and Jordan [Windham] does a great job coaching them and they have some really fine hitters,” Newberry coach Hank Rone said. “Really at the end to me it was who was going to be a little more aggressive and I think we kept swinging at the ball and that helped us, and then for my little setter to be in the front row and get a block, that’s her first block all year, so that should never happen, and somehow she timed it right.”

Last year, the Panthers advanced to the Class 1A state championship game. Entering this match, Newberry was ranked seventh in the state in Class 1A by MaxPreps while Union County was ranked fifth.

Union County's Caleigh Avery goes for a hit over Newberry's Abby Pace

Rone said the difference between this match and the district championship loss boiled down to serving.

“For us the last time, we missed 17 serves and we practiced all week on serving into carts to try and get it over and in, and I know we missed a few but not as many as last time,” Rone said. “And then No. 9 is our best hitter, she’s our terminator, and [Union County] has two, so we had to set her more. And we had some others who also stepped up and made some nice plays.”

Wilson led the Panthers with 26 kills and Pace had 35 assists and 22 digs. Kirsten Thomas added 28 digs.

Newberry will face Taylor (21-3) on Saturday in the regional final. The Wildcats swept Williston (25-19, 26-24, 25-21) to advance.

In Class 1A-Region 3, top seed Dixie County swept visiting Lafayette (Mayo) in Cross City, 25-21, 25-22, 25-20. The Hornets’ season ended at 17-9.

The Bears (15-9) will host No. 3 seed Bell in this Saturday’s regional final. The Bulldogs (13-12) defeated Branford on the road in four sets (25-18, 25-22, 10-25, 25-18).

“Great environment tonight in Branford,” said Bell coach Drue Barry. “We took the first two sets but knew Branford would still battle and they did, and they took it to us in the third set. I was proud of the girls for regaining their composure and taking care of business in the fourth set.

The Lady Bulldogs were led by Ashlee Thomas with 17 kills, Michelle Heilig with 16 kills and 24 digs, Emma Hutto with 42 assists, Karys York with 34 digs, and Taylor Tompkins with eight kills and seven blocks

Bell was swept by Dixie County at home in the District 6 championship game, and this time the ‘Dogs have to go to Cross City.

“Playing a lot of away games at the end of the season helped the girls handle the crowd,” Barry said. “We are looking forward to the rematch with Dixie County on Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Oak Hall (21-8) advanced to the Class 2A-Region 1 Final with a 3-1 win against District 4 foe Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville), 25-14, 22-25, 25-14, 25-19.

It was the first postseason win for any present player on the Oak Hall roster. The Eagles had received a bye last week after Countryside Christian (Gainesville) forfeited due to COVID-19 issues.

“I think that we found a way to overcome some playoff jitters and to successfully survive and advance,” said Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald.

Senior middle blocker Cate Cannon led the Oak Hall offense with 15 kills and two blocks. Senior Sophia Aulisio had 12 kills and 14 digs, and 8th-grade libero Amelia Chen led the defensive performance with 20 digs.

The Eagles will host No. 2 seed Harvest Community (Jacksonville) in Saturday’s regional final.

“Tonight, was a valuable learning experience and the team looks forward to working hard and improving before Saturday’s match vs Harvest,” McDonald said.

Class 4A No. 1 Santa Fe also advanced.

The Raiders (26-3) swept visiting Yulee (25-11, 25-12, 25-12) in Alachua to set up a showdown in the 4A-Region 1 Final this Saturday against Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville).

Regional Semifinals – Tuesday, November 2

4A-Region 1 Semifinals

No. 1 Santa Fe (Alachua) d. No. 5 Yulee 25-11, 25-12, 25-12

2A-Region 1 Semifinals

No. 1 Oak Hall (Gainesville) d. No. 5 Christ’s Church (Jacksonville) 25-14, 22-25, 25-14, 25-19

1A-Region 3 Semifinals

No. 1 Dixie County (Cross City) d. No. 4 Lafayette (Mayo) 25-21, 25-22, 25-20

No. 3 Bell d. No. 2 Branford 25-18, 25-22, 10-25, 25-18

1A-Region 4 Semifinals

No. 1 Taylor (Pierson) d. No. 4 Williston 25-19, 26-24, 25-21

No. 3 Newberry d. No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) 25-22, 28-26, 22-25, 18-25, 15-13

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