Each rung of the ladder gets harder in the playoffs and on Tuesday Santa Fe (Alachua) faced one of its toughest opponents of the season.
The Raiders – the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state and No. 2 overall in all classifications – hosted Bishop Moore (Orlando) in the 4A Region 2 Final. The visiting Hornets (20-8) were ranked third in the 4A rankings.
Santa Fe (28-2), the defending 4A state champion, dug deep in sweeping the Hornets, 25-21, 25-22 and 25-14 in a match that saw Bishop Moore hold the lead late in each of the first two sets.
For Eric Marshall, it didn’t surprise the Raiders’ fifth-year coach what type of team they were facing.
“Everybody looks at their record and they weren’t healthy,” he said. “(Tonight) they were healthy and they got their coach (Tanya Jarvis Starrett) back, so that was a big motivator for them.”
Bishop Moore struck first with two kills, took a 3-0 lead in the first set and held the advantage until Santa Fe tied the score 9-9 on an Anisa Dorlouis service ace.
“Anisa was killing them with the short serve, that’s the only reason we won set one because they couldn’t figure out what to do with Anisa’s short serve,” Marshall said. “We were down by four and she happened to be serving and Jay (Jalyn Stout) was in the front row and that’s a recipe for disaster for teams, there’s no mercy.”
Four Stout kills pushed the lead to 15-13, but the Hornets went on a 7-3 run to go up 20-18.
That’s when middle blocker Joselynn Sanjurjo turned the tide for the Raiders. Sanjurjo broke a 20-all tie with a kill and a block and then finished off the first set with back-to-back kills for the 25-21 win.
“It’s a shame because she has no idea how good she is,” Marshall said of his 5’10 junior. “She’s the most unassuming, no jumping around, no smile. She is who she is and doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. If I can figure out how to get her hyped that kid’s going to be unstoppable.”
The second set started the same as the first as the Hornets took a 3-1 lead before Stout, last year’s Florida Miss Volleyball, nailed three kills for a 6-3 Santa Fe lead.
The two teams exchanged the lead or were tied 19 times during the neck-and-neck set with Bishop Moore going ahead 22-21. A Stout kill and service ace put the Raiders ahead 23-22 and, following a Hornets timeout, Santa Fe sealed the win with kills from Camille Johnson and Dorlouis.
Outside of a 10-10 tie, Santa Fe led wire-to-wire in the final set.
Bishop Moore’s serving gave the Raiders fits in the early going, but Marshall said the difference in the game came on the defensive end of the net.
“They served the ball like this far over the net,” said Marshall with his fingers barely apart. “And they either did aces or they missed serves and they kept getting aces and they kept them in the game and every time we would get a run, they would get two or three aces. And then No. 6 (Anika Groom) went off. We couldn’t stop her.”
But the Raiders’ defense at the net was one of the keys.
“The difference to me in that game right there, we had six blocks,” Marshall said. “I mean that changes games. And it’s a freaking regional final, so it’s not supposed to be easy. This is what it’s supposed to be, so we expected it. I’m glad it’s over.”
Sanjurjo finished with nine kills and a team-leading four blocks.
“When I get good blocks and kills, I think of my team and I just think, ‘OK, I just did this for my team,’” Sanjurjo said. “I feel good about myself when I do stuff for my team that we can win a game like this.”
Stout racked up 20 kills, 11 assists, eight digs, three service aces and two blocks.
“I was a bit nervous, I’m not going to lie,” Stout said. “That was some good competition. It keeps you more aware when we go into the next game of what we’re going to see and it’s probably going to be higher competition like that.”
Miya Thomas added 17 digs, 13 assists, and six kills for the Raiders. Dorlouis had 10 digs and 10 assists, Olivia Beavers had seven digs and two aces, Sarah Falck had six digs and Johnson had five kills.
The Raiders will host Bishop Kenny (19-9) in the state semifinals in a rematch of last year’s 4A Region 1 Final that Santa Fe won. The match is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday.
Union County 3, Aucilla Christian 0
No. 2 seed Union County (Lake Butler) traveled to Jacksonville and swept No. 1 seed Aucilla Christian, 25-18, 25-17, 25-22, in the 1A Region 3 Final on Tuesday.
The Tigers (20-7) will now travel to Baker (21-6) for in 1A state semifinal at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Williston 3, Glades Day (Belle Glade) 2
No. 1 seed Williston avenged its district championship match loss on Oct. 20 when it defeated No. 3 seed Glades Day (Belle Glade), 19-25, 17-25, 25-19, 28-26, 15-9, in the 1A Region 4 Final.
The hosting Red Devils (19-10) played in their second straight five-set contest after beating Newberry last Friday in a region semifinals match.
Williston will travel to Bristol where it will take on Liberty County (26-2), ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, in the state semifinal round at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Class 4A-Region 2 Final
No. 1 Santa Fe (Alachua) 3, No. 2 Bishop Moore (Orlando) 0
Class 2A-Region 1 Final
No. 2 Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) 3, No. 1 Oak Hall 2
Class 1A-Region 3 Final
No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) 3, No. 1 Aucilla Christian (Monticello) 0
Class 1A-Region 4 Final
No. 1 Williston 3, No. 3 Glades Day (Belle Glade) 2