Two area volleyball teams ranked No. 1

Oak Hall volleyball coach Perry McDonald during timeout
Oak Hall volleyball coach Perry McDonald discusses strategy with the Class 2A 7th-ranked Eagles during a timeout. (Photo by C.J. Gish)

The end of the high school volleyball regular season is still over a month away. However, the last playing date for district tournament seeding is just one month from this Thursday.

Early on, there are a few area teams who are highly ranked in the MaxPreps state rankings.

Branford, which is 8-0, is ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, while defending 4A state champion Santa Fe (Alachua) is on top of the 4A state rankings.

“This team plays as a unit,” said Branford coach Mendy Sikes. “They all work very well together to compensate for the lack of height. They are all true competitors, but they don’t ever seem to get frustrated with mistakes.”

The Bucs swept Taylor County (Perry), 25-16, 25-8, 25-17 last Thursday as every player participated, and several played in different positions each set.

“We truly have a strong team and I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching them this season,” Sikes said.

Kennedy Walker led the way on Thursday with 10 kills. The junior has a team-leading 84 kills this season.

“Kennedy is a very strong player,” Sikes said. “I try to challenge each one of my players to be a versatile player. She came in willing to play anywhere we needed her. She plays extremely smart and has been a huge contribution to our program.”

Union County (Lake Butler), which travels to 4A No. 3 Baker County (Glen St. Mary) tonight at 6:30 p.m., is fourth in Class 1A followed by No. 5 Bell. Both teams are in Class 1A-District 6.

Last Thursday in a battle of undefeated teams, the 5th-ranked Bulldogs lost a five-set thriller on the road to the Tigers (5-0), who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to stay unbeaten.

“We won the first set convincingly (25-13), but I knew it would be a battle,” said Bell coach Drue Barry, whose team dropped to 4-1. “They won the third set and seemed to get some momentum going and the crowd got behind them.”

Union County dominated the third set with a 25-15 win that seemed to sway the momentum.

“We lost the first two sets by making unforced errors and playing scared,” said first-year Union County coach Tifani Knox. “The girls made a decision to fight back and win the last three sets. They accomplished this by playing smart, communicating, and working together as a team.”

The fifth set went back and forth with Union County winning, 15-13.

“It was a great atmosphere and had the feel of a playoff game,” Barry said. “Both teams hit the ball extremely hard, JC (senior Jaycee Davis) gave us a hard time from the outside. Ashlee Thomas did a great job for us with 19 kills.”

It was the closest Union County had come to a defeat this season. That’s something the Tigers can build on.

“Although I don’t recommend going to five sets, it really gave us an opportunity to overcome adversity and prove that we are mentally tough,” Knox said.

Bell plays at Chiefland at 6:30 p.m. tonight, while Union County puts its unbeaten record on the line against the Wildcats (4-0).

“The key to defeating Baker will be starting strong and playing our game at our tempo,” Knox said. “We have to use all of our offensive weapons and play smart to win.”

Bell, which will be guests on “The Prep Zone” sports show this Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. on 106.9 FM “I am Country,” was able to learn something valuable from the loss.

“Our big takeaway from this game is to finish the game when you get the lead,” Barry said. “You don’t want to give a good team any momentum. This district will be a battle the entire year, with three teams ranked in the top five in the state according to MaxPreps.”

Aucilla Christian (Monticello) is ranked second in Class 1A, meaning that four of the top five teams in the state are in the same region. Plus, Williston is just outside the top 10 at No. 11, followed by Fort White at No. 12, Newberry at No. 14 and Dixie County (Cross City) sits at No. 15.

Oak Hall School (7-1), which hosts Trenton on Thursday, is ranked seventh in Class 2A.

“Our team is playing well because we have a strong competitive and gritty team dynamic in which every girl knows her role and what she must do in order for the team to be successful,” said Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald. “The girls have excellent chemistry together and they started learning over the summer that when they are all able to put forth an ‘A’ level performance then the overall team can accomplish some remarkable feats.”

Junior outside hitter Pene Moser has 120 kills this season, sophomore setter Cassidy McDonald has accumulated 176 assists and junior Ave Scorpio has transitioned to the right side where she has tallied 68 kills.

“We are all very pleased with our start, but we still have a great deal that we can continue to improve upon,” McDonald said.

The Eagles’ only loss was at home to St. John Lutheran (Ocala) on Aug. 27. The two teams will see each other again on Wednesday, Sept. 14, in Ocala.

Gainesville High (8-1) is ranked fourth in the state in Class 6A.

The Hurricanes just went 5-1 at the NIKE Tournament of Champions at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Complex in Wesley Chapel, just outside of Tampa, despite being without head coach Chancie Vice, who has been dealing with some health issues.

“The girls have been playing so well because we’ve talked a lot about their ‘why,” Vice said. “What makes them push when they’re tired, what makes them want to come get better every single day.”

Assistant coach Courtney King has assumed the role of head coach until Vice is able to return.

“Coach King has done a great job stepping up and leading the girls, but the girls also have a fire lit since I’ve been out,” Vice said. “They work harder and play harder than I’ve ever seen them before. Most importantly, they work together. I miss them so much but I’m also so proud of them all.”

GHS has had to overcome a lot of adversity.

The Hurricanes suffered a huge setback as USC commit Brooklyn Tealer is out all season due to a shoulder tear she already had surgery on.

“She is recovering very well and we’re hoping to have her (finally) for an entire season her senior year,” Vice said. “She has adapted to the player/coach role very well and we’re so glad she’s here with us.”

Vice said she makes a difference even off the court.

“We’re down three of our starters (Tealer, Madison Howard, and Ta’Niya Walker),” Vice said. “All of them are injured. All of them are out all season. We’ve had to face adversity head on this season.”

On Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. the Hurricanes will travel to rival Buchholz for the first of a two-match series (at GHS on Sept. 29).

“When BHS and GHS play each other both teams always bring their best game,” Vice said. “It’s going to be a fun, emotional game, it always is. Our biggest key for the game is going to be using this past weekend as momentum and not getting complacent with where we’re at. Coach King and I have a game plan in mind and we’re ready to watch the girls do their thing: fight.”

Santa Fe also had an impressive showing in Wesley Chapel, finishing 5-1 with their only loss of the season coming 2-0 to Cornerstone Christian of San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday.

The Raiders (8-1), who travel to Vanguard (Ocala) tonight at 7 p.m., posted wins against Cardinal Mooney (Sarasota), St. Henry (Erlanger, KY), Mountain Brook (Birmingham, AL), Plant (Tampa), Calvary Christian (Clearwater), and Tampa Prep.

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