Ridaught: Volleyball postseason begins today

Volleyball montage
District high school volleyball action starts on Monday with championship matches set for Thursday. (Photos by C.J. Gish)

With the high school volleyball regular season officially over, area teams begin their quest for a state championship this week with district tournament action getting underway today. 

Santa Fe (Alachua), which is the No. 2 overall team in Florida according to MaxPreps, looks to defend its 4A state title behind reigning Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Volleyball Jalyn Stout

Stout has been dominating the competition with 443 kills for an average of 6.3 kills per set. The Coastal Carolina commit and the Raiders (23-2) wrapped up their regular season on Saturday with wins against 6A No. 4 Ponte Vedra (3-2) and 4A No. 6 Bishop Kenny (3-1). 

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Santa Fe's Jalyn Stout with a kill against Florida High
Photo by C.J. Gish Reigning Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Volleyball Player of the Year Jalyn Stout leads a Raiders team in search of back-to-back state titles. (Photo by C.J. Gish)

The Raiders are hosting this week’s 4A-District 5 tournament. Eastside, the No. 5 seed, will play No. 4 seed Dunnellon tonight at 7 p.m. Santa Fe gets the winner at 7 p.m. in Tuesday’s district semifinals. 

Meanwhile, Class 1A is wide open. 

Four area teams (Branford, Williston, Union County and Bell) are ranked in the top 12 in the state. 

Three of those teams are in 1A-District 6 as top seed Branford is ranked sixth in 1A, followed by No. 2 seed Union County (Lake Butler) and No. 3 seed Bell, who are ranked 10th and 12th in state, respectively. 

“This season has been a true pleasure as a coach,” said Branford coach Mendy Sikes. “I have the hardest working girls that try to hold each other accountable. This group of young ladies have managed to face challenges on the court with determination and trusting one another. We have been battling a few injuries, but I am hopeful that by districts we will be back at 100%.” 

The Bucs (18-5), who will play the winner of tonight’s match (7 p.m.) between No. 4 seed Fort White (11-4) and No. 5 seed Lafayette (Mayo), started the season 13-0 before losing to No. 3 seed Bell, 3-2, on Sept. 19. 

Junior Kennedy Walker leads the way with 193 kills, followed by junior Jadyn Mosley (153) and sophomore Madyson Sikes (99). 

Branford didn’t play No. 2 seed Union County (Lake Butler) during the regular season but could face the Tigers (16-7) in Thursday’s district championship match. 

“The teams in our district are very strong and we will need to be at our best to accomplish our goal,” Sikes said. “The advantage our team has over Bell and Union is the diversity of hitters. With Ward, Mosley, Walker, Sikes, and (Kayley) Johnson at the net, we keep the defense on their toes. We are still so young, but they manage to rise to the occasion. We have an amazing setter and our libero works just as hard to cover as much ground as she can.” 

Bell (14-10) had two 5-set losses to Williston (last one they were up 2-0), a 5-set loss to Class 3A Marianna, and a 5-set loss to Union County. 

“I think the season has been successful so far,” said Bell coach Drue Barry. “We played a very challenging schedule and really competed even in the losses. Most have been very tight and could have played out either way. We just have to learn to finish, and we will be fine.” 

Barry said 1A-District 6 is “a very tough and competitive district.” 

“I firmly believe we have three teams from our district that should advance to regional play (Bell, Branford, and Union County),” Barry said. “Branford is ranked high so they will make it, Union should, and I think with our strength of schedule we should also make it. We have the strongest strength in our region so I think that should play a part.” 

It’s always tough to beat a team three times in a season and following two losses to Union County, the Bulldogs feel confident about meeting the Tigers for a third time. 

Bell volleyball Ashlee Thomas hit
Photo by C.J. Gish Bell’s Ashlee Thomas led the Bulldogs with 316 kills.

“Honestly, if we play our game, I feel we will be okay,” Barry said. “We lost to them at Union in five after being up two games, and we didn’t play really well at home. They are a good team, but I feel if we execute, we will be fine.” 

The Bulldogs will benefit by hosting this week’s district tournament. 

“It allows the girls to relax and also lets our student section get loud and play an important role in the game,” Barry said. 

Senior Ashlee Thomas (316 kills) and senior Tracie Smith (249 kills) lead Bell, who gets a big boost with the return of right-side hitter Stacy Waddle. 

“Stacy had been out the whole year recovering from knee surgery and was finally cleared last week on senior night,” Barry said. “She has come back strong and is the twin sister of our setter (Sydney Waddle), so they are always on the same page. She has been like a coach on the bench, so she has watched and learned a lot from the sidelines this year. She will make a difference for us in districts.” 

Newberry is the top seed in 1A-District 7 and will face the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal between No. 4 seed Cedar Key and tournament host Trenton, which is seeded fifth. 

Panthers coach Hank Rone said the season has been up and down. 

“We are growing as a team and eliminating some of the mental errors,” he said. “The last two weeks we changed the lineup a little bit and really worked hard on off the net hitting and serving. Hopefully we continue to play smart as we head into districts.” 

Dixie County, which returned a strong nucleus from last year’s first-ever state semifinal appearance, is the No. 2 seed and will play No. 2 seed Chiefland in the other semifinal on Tuesday. 

It’s possible the Panthers (10-14) could face the Bears (10-12) in a rubber match for the district title on Thursday at 7 p.m. 

“Our first concern is game one,” Rone said. “You can’t overlook a very improved Trenton team. They just swept Mayo in three. Cedar Key has a couple nice players as well. Chiefland has found something the last half of the season. They have one of the best six rotation players in our district in Claire Horne.” 

Dixie County also has been up and down but they went 3-1 in league play this year. 

“Dixie can hit from anywhere and moving Katie Roberts to libero was a game changer for them,” Rone said. “She gives them more balls up and they can run more offense. Dixie is the best blocking team in our district. We have to hit smart, hit around the big block or high hand hit at them.” 

Last year, Newberry (18-11) lost in five sets to Union County (Lake Butler) in the 1A-District 7 championship match but prior to that, they won four straight district titles. They look to maintain that success.

“We have to play within ourselves and stick to our game plan we committed to two weeks ago,” Rone said. “If we serve receive well, hit our off-net balls in good spots, and get our serves over, we will give ourselves a fighting chance.” 

Williston is the top seed in 1A-District 8 and will host this week’s district tournament. The Red Devils (16-9) have won six in a row. 

“We went through a stretch about three weeks ago that we were just not playing real good volleyball,” said first-year Williston coach Kevin Tiller. “Myself and our coaching staff looked at our girls and said ‘the remainder of the season is up to you guys.’ From that moment forward this Lady Red Devil volleyball team has not been the same. We make a statement often that it all starts with a pass and the rest will come. That is exactly where it has all started. Junior libero Morgan Geiger has stepped up and began the process.” 

Williston volleyball Karley Jerrels
Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Karley Jerrels is second on the Red Devils with 141 kills this season.

Tiller took over a program that had just eight wins last season. 

“My goal was to come in and rebuild the culture here at Williston,” he said. “Our program from all the levels this season I believe has been a tremendous success. At the varsity level, we chose a tough schedule in the beginning to prepare us for this part of the season. I believe we are right where we want to be.” 

Junior Grace Dola (174 kills) and senior Karley Jerrels (141 kills) lead Williston, who will play either No. 4 seed Hawthorne or No. 5 seed Bronson in Tuesday’s semifinals (7 p.m.). 

No. 2 seed Glades Day will play No. 3 Wildwood in the other district semifinal at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. 

“To win districts no matter who the opponent is we have to come out and play our brand of volleyball,” Tiller said. “Playing these bigger schools and a faster pace will do nothing but make us better as make a run in the playoffs.”

It’s been “a truly stellar season for this year’s Oak Hall girls’ volleyball team,” according to head coach Perry McDonald. 

“We knew that when Sophia Aulisio (last year’s Gainesville Sun Small School Player of the Year) and two other All-Area seniors graduated last year that it was going to leave some gaps in our line-up,” he said. “Those gaps swelled into canyons in July when we were surprised by the unexpected transfer of two other players. I think this team had its gut check very early on and with those challenges came opportunities that many young and inexperienced players were eager to try and fill.” 

Junior outside hitter Pene Moser has a team high 308 kills, 20 blocks, 198 digs and 29 aces, while sophomore setter Cassidy McDonald has accumulated 504 assists, 92 kills, 23 blocks, 116 digs and 53 aces. 

“Each of them has been exceptional in leading this team to multiple wins,” McDonald said. “Junior opposite Ave Scorpio and freshman libero Amelia Chen have also had strong seasons and are major reasons for this team’s 20-4 overall record.” 

The Eagles, who won the 16-team Keswick Christian Invitational earlier this year, are the No. 1 seed in 2A-District 4 and will host the district semifinals and championship match. 

“One of the neatest things about this group is that all 11 members of the team play, contribute, and help us win every match, every night,” McDonald said. “The season so far has been extraordinary and I know every player and coach is now focused on checking off our next big goal of securing home court advantage in our region by winning our district.” 

Oak Hall will play the winner of Tuesday’s quarterfinal (at 6 p.m.) between No. 4 seed St. Francis Catholic Academy and No. 5 Florida School for the Deaf & Blind (St. Augustine). 

Countryside Christian (9-10), the No. 2 seed, will play either No. 3 seed St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine) or No. 6 Peniel Baptist Academy (Palatka) in the other district semifinal. 

“If you asked our girls what the keys are I am sure they would say, ‘we need to have fun, continue to improve and focus on consistent defense, serve receive and serving,’ McDonald said. “If we meet these goals successfully then the win will take care of itself.” 

City rivals Gainesville and Buchholz meet in Tuesday’s 6A-District 4 semifinals at the Purple Palace. 

It will be the third meeting between the host Hurricanes and the Bobcats. GHS, which won 19 games this year for the first time in 11 years, won both meetings. 

“The more you play a team the more they know your players, your defense, your offense,” said GHS coach Chancie Vice. “A good coach will then create a game plan to expose our weaknesses, however, having beat them twice already we also know their weak spots and plan to take advantage. I plan to keep my girls focused and humble.” 

Last Monday, on Senior Night, the Hurricanes (19-6) swept the Bobcats (12-11) but the visiting Bobcats nearly won the first set, falling 27-25. 

“I was proud of the 3-game sweep but every set was close,” Vice said. “That cannot happen again. When it comes to playoffs it could be anyone’s game. The team that wants it more will come out on top.” 

GHS, which is ranked sixth in the state in Class 6A, could receive and at-large berth to next week’s regional tournament. The winner of Tuesday’s semifinal will likely travel to New Smyrna Beach, which is the No. 3 overall team in Florida according to MaxPreps. 

“We have been getting the job done in season, but as for postseason everyone needs to step their game up,” Vice said. “We have to have a find-a-way mentality as opposed to moving on and correcting it at the next practice. No “next practice” is guaranteed. The key to beating Buchholz I believe will be to remain humble and hungry, focusing on the fundamentals and executing the game plan.”

The first serve is at 7 p.m.

FHSAA Volleyball District Tournaments (times are subject to change)

Class 1A-District 6 – at Bell High School
Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Fort White vs. No. 5 Lafayette (Mayo), 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Branford vs. Lafayette/Fort White winner, 5 p.m.
No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) vs. No. 3 Bell, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

Class 1A-District 7 – at Trenton High School

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Cedar Key vs. No. 5 Trenton, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Newberry vs. Trenton/Cedar Key winner, 5 p.m.
No. 2 Dixie County (Cross City) vs. No. 3 Chiefland, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

Class 1A-District 8 – at Williston High School

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Hawthorne vs. No. 5 Bronson, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 2 Glades Day (Belle Glade) vs. No. 3 Wildwood, 5 p.m.
No. 1 Williston vs. Hawthorne/Bronson winner, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

Class 2A-District 4 – at Oak Hall School (Semifinals & championship)
Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Quarterfinals) – at Higher seed
No. 5 Florida School for the Deaf & Blind (St. Augustine) at No. 4 St. Francis Catholic Academy, 6 p.m.
No. 6 Peniel Baptist Academy (Palatka) at No. 3 St. Joseph Academy (St. Augustine), 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 19 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Oak Hall School vs. St. Francis Catholic/Florida Deaf winner, 5 p.m.
No. 2 Countryside Christian vs. St. Joseph Academy/Peniel Baptist winner, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 6 p.m.

Class 3A-District 3 – at Palatka High School (Semifinals & Championship)

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals) – at Higher Seed
No. 5 Bradford (Starke) at No. 4 Taylor County (Perry), 6 p.m.
No. 6 Interlachen at No. 3 Crescent City, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Palatka vs. Bradford/Taylor County, 6 p.m.
No. 2 P.K. Yonge vs. Crescent City/Interlachen, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

Class 4A-District 2 – at Higher Seed

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 5 Gadsden County (Havana) at No. 4 Godby (Tallahassee), 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
Godby/Gadsden County winner at No. 1 Baker County (Glen St. Mary), 6 p.m.
No. 3 Suwannee (Live Oak) at No. 2 Wakulla (Crawfordville), 6 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 6 p.m.

Class 4A-District 4 – at Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville)

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Keystone Heights vs. No. 5 Tocoi Creek (St. Augustine), 6 p.m.
No. 3 Beachside (Jacksonville) vs. No. 6 Wolfson (Jacksonville), 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Bolles vs. Keystone Heights/Tocoi Creek winner, 6 p.m.
No. 2 Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) vs. Wolfson/Beachside winner, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 6:30 p.m.

Class 4A-District 5 – at Santa Fe High School (Alachua)

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Dunnellon vs. No. 5 Eastside, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 2 North Marion (Citra) vs. No. 3 Crystal River, 5:30 p.m.
No. 1 Santa Fe (Alachua) vs. Eastside/Dunnellon winner, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

Class 5A-District 2 – at Lincoln (Tallahassee) (Semifinals & Championship)

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals) – at Higher Seed
No. 5 Rickards (Tallahassee) at No. 4 Belleview, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 2 Vanguard (Ocala) vs. No. 3 Columbia (Lake City), 5 p.m.
Belleview/Rickards winner at Lincoln (Tallahassee), 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 6 p.m.

Class 6A-District 4 – at Higher Seed

Monday, Oct. 17 (Quarterfinals)
No. 5 Matanzas (Palm Coast) at No. 4 Forest (Ocala), 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct. 18 (Semifinals)
No. 3 Buchholz at No. 2 Gainesville, 6 p.m.
Forest/Matanzas winner at No. 1 New Smyrna Beach, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 20
Championship, 7 p.m.

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