Ridaught: Eagles continue to soar

Oak Hall volleyball cross country and football
Oak Hall's fall sports continue to shine with volleyball, cross country and football still alive in the playoffs. (File photos by C.J. Gish, Seth Johnson and Taryn Ashby)

Fresh off being named the best overall athletics program in Class 2A during the 2021-22 school year, Oak Hall School is at again.

Tonight the Eagles’ volleyball team is in the second round of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) state playoffs, the football team plays in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC) playoffs, the girls and boys cross country teams won the Class 1A-District 3 title, and the boys won the 1A-District 5 golf tournament.

Last year the volleyball and cross country teams contributed to the top finish with 13 points each, and they’re both in the mix to score high again.

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The girls and boys cross country teams finished third at the Class 1A state meet last year. They continue their quest for a state title run with Saturday’s regional tournament at Santa Fe College.

The Oak Hall volleyball team swept St. John Paul II (Tallahassee) on Tuesday and tonight at 7 p.m. the top seed Eagles will host No. 4 seed Harvest Community (Jacksonville) in a Class 2A-Region 1 Semifinal.

Last year the Eagles advanced to the 2A state semifinals, and with home court advantage throughout regional play, Oak Hall (23-4) is considered a favorite to be among the final four teams again.

“Boy, they’re looking good,” said Oak Hall football offensive coordinator Anthony Aulisio, whose 8th-grade daughter, Nicky, is on the team. “We didn’t know coming into the season how it would go and crazy Perry (Coach McDonald) exceeds expectations and those girls are playing really well right now.”

Aulisio will have to miss his daughter’s game because the FHSAA scheduled the regional semifinals for volleyball on the same night as high school football.

Santa Fe (Alachua) moved its volleyball match to Thursday night since the football team was playing for a district title tonight at Eastside, and Newberry moved its football game to Thursday night since the volleyball team was playing in the Class 1A state playoffs on Friday.

While cross country and volleyball grab most of the attention, the Oak Hall football team is quietly putting together a model of consistency.

The Eagles, who were radio guests on “The Prep Zone” sports show this past Wednesday, just put together their eighth straight winning season, including an unbeaten regular season.

“We’re excited, we’re young,” said Oak Hall football coach R.J. Fuhr. “We only have four seniors. We had 25 kids on our middle school team. We fly under the radar sometimes being a smaller school but our motto is ‘family, and why not us.’ I think people are finally taking notice that Oak Hall has a football program and it’s pretty successful.”

Just two years ago, because of a lack of numbers due to COVID-19, Oak Hall dropped down to 8-man football and nearly won a state championship, going 9-1 and losing in the state title game.

In 2021, Oak Hall returned to 11-man football but after a 6-1 regular season the Eagles were upset in the opening round of the SSAC playoffs by Santa Fe Catholic (Lakeland), which went on to the state title.

Despite the obstacles over the last two years, Fuhr has been able to maintain consistency in the program.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the administration,” Fuhr said. “Everyone is very supportive of the whole athletic program. We have great facilities, and winning helps. Kids want to come out and play for a winning team. And we’re building it from the lower school.”

Fuhr said that since Oak Hall is a K-12 school, they’ve invited their rising 6th-graders to spring football practice. 

Unfortunately, the Eagles didn’t get to play their regular season finale last Friday against rival St. Francis Catholic Academy because the officials didn’t show up. It was homecoming and Senior Night for Oak Hall.

“The athletic department did everything they were supposed to do,” Fuhr said. “We had confirmation on emails and didn’t have officials. Our four seniors didn’t get to have a senior night, so very unfortunate.”

One of those seniors, tight end Dylan Provencher, knew that something wasn’t right as the game got close to kickoff.

“We had already done Senior Night,” he said. “We had warmed up before that. In the back of my mind I knew that something seemed weird but I didn’t realize that there weren’t refs, but I knew that something didn’t seem right because no one asked about captains. This was my Senior Night. For six years I’ve watched other people get their senior nights and having it fall on the St. Francis game, and it was homecoming, I was on the homecoming court, so there was this huge lead up.”

Provencher, who has five college offers, didn’t get to play on Senior Night, but he gets an opportunity to play in one more Oak Hall football game. 

He brings experience to a team that has plenty of youth.

Oak Hall starts a sophomore at quarterback (Dakota Brower), is led in the backfield by another sophomore, Briggs Copeland (37 carries for 516 yards with 12 TDs), and has no seniors on the offensive line, including an 8th-grader who starts at right guard.

Yet, the Eagles just went undefeated and advanced to tonight’s state playoff game.

“We’re excited about the future and we’re excited about being in the playoffs,” Fuhr said.

The Eagles (7-0), who were the No. 1 seed in 5A last year, will travel to top seed Central Florida Christian Academy (Ocoee) as the No. 4 seed in 6A for the SSAC quarterfinals.

“They’re a juggernaut,” Fuhr said. “They beat New Smyrna Beach, who is a 4S team. They beat Santa Fe Catholic, 66-0, and Santa Fe Catholic is not a bad team. They have a 1,500 yard rusher, their quarterback is a dual-threat guy, they have athletes all over the place so we’ll have to come focused and play kind of a flawless game, to be honest with you. It’s going to be a tough game on the road but we’re excited to be in the higher bracket and we’ll give it our best shot.”

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