Ridaught: It’s game week

Santa Fe's Jalyn Stout earned Class 4A Player of the Year honors after helping the Raiders win their first state volleyball title in school history.
Santa Fe's Jalyn Stout earned Class 4A Player of the Year in 2021 and returns to lead the Raiders following a 4A state championship. (Photo by C.J. Gish)
Photo by C.J. Gish

After months of waiting, the regular season has arrived.

This past Friday was a dress rehearsal for area football teams.

Oak Hall School, which looks to extend its playoff run, edged P.K. Yonge, 14-13, in a game that was delayed an hour by lightning. It was one of 16 preseason games this past Thursday and Friday.

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Buchholz, which is preparing for a deep playoff run, cruised past Trinity Catholic (Ocala) on the road. 

The Bobcats have a huge season opener this Thursday at 7 p.m. against Columbia (Lake City), which will be led by Hawthorne transfer Tyler Jefferson at quarterback. We will have coverage of the game at MainStreetDailyNews.com.

The Prep Zone Power Poll, which ranks the top 20 football teams across 26 counties in North Florida regardless of classification, will be released on Wednesday. 

Buchholz finished No. 1 last year following its state semifinal game run.

This fall will mark the third straight year that we will broadcast high school football on the radio and our second year that we have broadcast games online at MainstreetDailyNews.com. 

On Friday, our football radio broadcast will be Vanguard (Ocala) at Gainesville at 7 p.m. (pregame begins at 6:30 p.m. on 106.9 FM “I am Country.” Join myself and former Gator/Hurricane/Newberry volleyball coach Hank Rone on the call.

“Something I always wanted to do,” Rone told me. “What a great opportunity to work with you. As a former Gainesville High football player, it will be an awesome experience to call for the alma mater against a great Vanguard team.”

Rone said the rivalry dates back 40-plus years.

“Great time of year and if I’m not coaching football, I can’t think of a better way to be part of it than in the booth,” he added.

We have loads of prep sports coverage ahead in the way of print, radio, and online.

Meanwhile, volleyball starts tonight and there is a big game in the Tri-County area as former district rivals go head-to-head. 

Tonight’s Dixie County (Cross City) at Bell game is a rematch of last year’s regional championship. The visiting Bears won that game and returns a solid nucleus from last year’s state semifinal team.

The Bears and Bulldogs were in the same district last year, but the new alignment doesn’t even have them in the same region this year. 

“We split with them last year with each team winning two times, but they won the game that mattered,” said Bell coach Drue Barry. “Dixie brings back a lot of their players from last year so I have no doubt they will be very competitive.”

“We will need to make sure we stay calm during the games and play to our strengths. We don’t have the same height we have had in the past, but we are very athletic. 

Barry is expecting a great crowd and atmosphere in Bell tonight. 

“We need to make sure we make Dixie earn every point they get,” he added. 

New Dixie County volleyball coach James Bendel Jr. said he has been pleased with what he saw in the preseason matchup against Suwannee (Live Oak).

“We were able to run multiple different lineups and see how the team plays together in those,” he said. “The data will be very useful.”

Bendel said there will be a few keys to a Dixie County victory.

“Bringing the energy into their building will be very important in the season opener,” he said. “I believe that serving and service. Serving is of the utmost importance so that we can keep the momentum and run our offense and system.” 

Oak Hall School, which advanced to the 2A state semifinals last year, will host Chiefland tonight at 7 p.m. 

“I think that everyone who came to the gym expecting us to have a rebuilding year went away realizing that this young team is much farther along than anticipated and that they should be a good competitor in Class 2A this season,” Eagles coach Perry McDonald said after his team’s preseason wins against The Rock and Newberry. “I am extraordinarily proud of the effort and camaraderie that these girls are displaying.”

“I think that if we can continue to improve our defense and serve receive so that we are playing in-system a strong majority of the time then this team will definitely make some waves.”

Tomorrow night at 6 p.m., new St. Francis Catholic Academy volleyball coach Hannah Zehner will coach her first varsity volleyball match as the Wolves travel to Seven Rivers Christian (Lecanto). 

Zehner, who was just hired last week, assisted with the Gulf Coast Heat varsity volleyball team in Sarasota.

“With the short turnaround I was worried it might be stressful and overwhelming, but the Saint Francis staff has been absolutely amazing,” Zehner said. “They are very helpful, and after holding a meeting with the parents, I am truly impressed with their kindness and willingness to work with me and help me out. Excited to see the girls grow and have fun this season.”

Union County, which looks to defend its district title, hosts rival Bradford (Starke) on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

“I was pleased with our performance in the preseason scrimmage,” said first-year coach Tifani Knox. “The team worked together well and has shown continual improvement. I am excited to start the season tomorrow.”

“The key to opening the season with a win is communicating, working as a team, and not giving up. We have been working on these things for the last few weeks so we should do well.”

Defending Class 4A state champion Santa Fe (Alachua) will travel to Trinity Catholic (Ocala) on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The host Celtics, who lost in the Class 3A state semifinals last year, won the 3A state title in 2020 and the 5A state title in 2018 under head coach Jeff Reavis, who led Buchholz to the Class 6A state title in 2007.

“I am very proud of last year‘s team and I am looking forward to another year of great challenges,” said Santa Fe volleyball coach Eric Marshall, who was selected the Florida Dairy Farmers Coach of the Year last year. “We will start with what I think will be one of the best teams in Florida. I think Trinity has a legitimate shot to win the championship and it will give us a lot of information on what we need to work on.”

Newberry, which aims to maintain success, hosts Buchholz Tuesday at 7 p.m. 

“You have to bring your ‘A’ game,” said Newberry coach Hank Rone. “We have to play great defense, put the ball away when we get opportunities and serve well.”

According to Rone, Class 6A Buchholz has been a “great program over the years.”

“We scheduled Buchholz this year as our marquee game of the year,” he said. “Opening up with them will let us know what we need to work on to get better for the rest of the season.”

This Saturday, the Panthers have a Tri-Match with Branford, who has everyone back plus a great transfer from Lafayette (Mayo), along with Valdosta High (Georgia Class 7A which is already 8-1). 

Branford plays Newberry at 9 a.m., followed by Valdosta and Branford at 10:30 a.m. and Valdosta against Newberry at noon. Plus there will be a BBQ Fundraiser put on by Tailgators BBQ.

Also on Saturday, Oak Hall School is hosting a four-team round-robin. All matches will be best-of-three. The third set will be to 15. All sets will be win by two (no cap).

It begins at 9 a.m. with the host Eagles facing St. Francis Catholic Academy at 9 a.m. The other participating teams are St. John Lutheran (Ocala) and Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville). 

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