Oak Hall cruises to Class 2A round of 16

Oak Hall's Ave Scorpio with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Oak Hall's Ave Scorpio with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish

For the first time ever, going back to when his coaching days began at Eastside in 1996, Oak Hall volleyball coach Perry McDonald told his team “You’re not going to have to play in any other high school’s gym this season.”

The Eagles have home court advantage during the Class 2A state playoffs through the first three rounds of regional play before the FHSAA Volleyball state tournament semifinals and championship game at Polk State College (Nov. 6-7).

On Tuesday night, top seed Oak Hall took the first step to a potential run for a state championship with a 25-14, 25-12, 25-7 sweep of No. 8 North Florida Christian (Tallahassee) in a Class 2A-Region 1 Quarterfinal at Oxborough Gymnasium.

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Oak Hall's Sophie Thompson with a set against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Oak Hall’s Sophie Thompson with a set against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.

“I think that we’re hitting a level right now that is on the cusp of becoming special,” McDonald said. “I told the girls when we were meeting after the match tonight, last night’s practice was the most fun I had with them all year long, and you could see that level of execution really coming through against each other.”

The Eagles (23-4) used a 6-0 run in the opening set with an ace by senior Pene Moser for a 12-3 lead.

They took an 11-point lead on an ace by junior Sara Duggan (seven service points, two aces) and a commanding 23-10 lead on an ace by junior Emma Raulerson (three aces).

“I mean they were just whaling on each other and playing great defense against big swings and good blocks,” McDonald said. “It’s fun when you start seeing that level of competition and consistency manifest itself in practice and I think that candidly we can play even better than what we played tonight.”

Moser, who ended the first set with a kill, led Oak Hall with 22 kills.

“Pene is back to her special player of the year caliber performances,” McDonald said. “We’d seen that for about maybe a week and a half or two weeks and you could tell that connection between her and Cassidy (McDonald) is freaking nice. They run those shoots to the outside so effectively and Pene’s got such nice variety that the two of them could run a highlight reel between the pair of them each time we step onto the court. It’s fun to see that.”

McDonald finished with 24 assists. The junior setter also had six service points and three aces.

“When me and Cassidy are clicking with each other, it’s easy,” Moser said. “It’s lights out for us.”

Oak Hall's Haley Janes with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Oak Hall’s Haley Janes with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.

The visiting Eagles (8-15) played tougher in the second game and tied the set at 11-11 with an ace by Ahmiyah Richards.

Later in the set, with junior Sophie Thompson back serving, the Eagles went on an 11-0 run for a 2-0 lead. Moser added five kills during the run.

“Coach Perry likes to call it Oak Hall ball, we’ve been playing more Oak Hall ball,” Thompson said. “We’ve been having more fun and just being more disciplined with the little things that have taken us this far.”

Thompson’s serving helped spark a quick 10-2 lead in the final set thanks to five straight kills by Moser.

After a service error and then a kill by freshman Kendylle Bishop, fellow freshman Nicolette Aulisio added a pair of aces as Oak Hall followed up the early 7-0 run with a 6-0 run for a 16-3 lead.

Thompson finished with 17 service points, along with two aces.

“Great run, wasn’t it,” McDonald said. “The tape serves and her aggressive runs. She has looked that good in practice and so I was hoping she would get a chance to showcase that.”

Last year the Eagles (23-4) fell one game shy of a state semifinal appearance with a five-set loss to Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) in the region final.

They are currently two wins away.

“I am so excited for the Sweet 16,” Moser said. “I love making it far in the playoffs and that win was just so good. I love it.”

Senior Ave Scorpio finished with seven kills for Oak Hall, which will host No. 4 seed St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park) in Friday’s regional semifinals.

The winner will play either No. 2 seed Christ’s Church or No. 3 seed Harvest Community (Jacksonville) on Halloween night with a berth in the 2A state semifinals on the line.

2023 FHSAA Volleyball state playoffs

Tuesday, Oct. 24

Class 2A-4A Regional Quarterfinals

Class 2A-Region 1

No. 1 Oak Hall d. No. 8 North Florida Christian (Tallahassee) 25-14, 25-12, 25-7

No. 4 St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park) d. No. 5 Countryside Christian 25-18, 25-16, 25-19

No. 2 Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) d. No. 7 St. Francis Catholic Academy 25-7, 25-6, 25-11

Class 3A-Region 1

No. 1 Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville) d. No. 8 P.K. Yonge 25-17, 25-18, 25-13

Class 4A-Region 2

No. 2 Santa Fe (Alachua) d. No. 7 Titusville 25-12, 25-11, 25-16

Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald talks to Ave Scorpio, Cassidy McDonald and Pene Moser during a timeout against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald talks to Ave Scorpio, Cassidy McDonald and Pene Moser during a timeout against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Oak Hall's Pene Moser with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Oak Hall’s Pene Moser with a hit against North Florida Christian on Tuesday.

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