The high school volleyball regular season is officially over.
District play begins this week, followed by regional play the following week.
Two-time defending state champion Santa Fe (Alachua) lost a lot of talent, including two-time Miss Volleyball Jalyn Stout, but don’t count the Raiders out for a potential 3-peat.
Last year the Raiders finished 30-2 and won their second straight state title with a win against the Academy of Holy Names (Tampa) in the 4A title game.
“Well obviously losing four Division-I players is gigantic,” said Santa Fe coach Eric Marshall. “Some really good players but obviously Jalyn Stout was special. So to lose Jalyn, who is killing it in college right now (Coastal Carolina), but to lose them, most people’s expectations were for us just to have a winning season, maybe make it to regionals and be happy with that, but my expectation was to try and make another run at a state championship.”
The Raiders (17-8) earned the No. 1 seed and will host this week’s 4A-District 5 tournament. They are also currently the No. 2 seed in 4A-Region 2 behind Bishop Moore (Orlando).
Although they may not be as talented, they are still talented enough to win a third straight Class 4A state title.
“Will we win another one, I don’t know,” Marshall said. “Do we have the talent, yeah we have the talent. I haven’t seen some of those teams. I know Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) is very good, Bishop Moore is very good, obviously. Academy of the Holy Names should be very good, but we’re focusing on us and I played a really tough schedule this year. We did that on purpose to try and prepare us, so we’ll see.”
Senior outside hitter Jordan Czaplewski, who transferred from Buchholz, leads Santa Fe with 287 kills, followed by senior Joseylynn Sanjurjo with 199 kills (team-leading 47 blocks).
Senior libero Olivia Beavers is first with 370 digs, while sophomore Gracyn Marshall leads the Raiders with 382 assists.
“Jordan is playing very well, took up a lot of those swings that we are having to set her a lot,” Marshall said. “Joseylynn is playing extremely well. Olivia has stepped into the libero role and has done a very good job. It’s her first year playing libero for me. My daughter (Gracyn) is setting to take over the reins from two incredible Division-I setters.”
The Raiders lost sophomore outside hitter Brooke Findley for the year but the seniors stepped up to help the team secure home court advantage this week.
“Our district is not as strong this year so I think we’ll be fine in the districts,” Marshall said. “Obviously it’s volleyball so you never know. I’ve certainly won when I was supposed to and lost when I wasn’t supposed to, but I think we’re going to be OK.”
“I haven’t looked at the route but our route has always gone through Bishop Kenny, so if I have to go through Bishop Kenny they’re very good, very well coached. They played a tough schedule, they’ve beaten some really good teams and I anticipate I’ll have to go to their place. The last time I played there we lost, which was the year that they won the state championship. One step at a time.”
Last year a total of five teams from the Mainstreet Daily News coverage area won a district title (Union County, Dixie County, Oak Hall, P.K. Yonge, and Santa Fe).
But this year a total of seven area teams (including GHS in 6A-District 4 and Williston) could take home a championship.
GHS (17-7), which won 20 games last year for the first time in 18 years, will be the No. 1 seed in their district.
Last year, the district runner-up Hurricanes had to travel to New Smyrna Beach for the district championship game, but this year they would get an opportunity to host it.
GHS volleyball has the potential to be special. They also have played an extremely difficult schedule.
Last year Union County (Lake Butler) and Williston both advanced to the 1A state semifinals.
The Tigers (10-11) have struggled but still earned the No. 2 seed in 1A-District 6 behind top seed Branford (20-4), but Williston finished 15-10 against a tough schedule and secured the top seed in 1A-District 8.
“What an incredible season with an incredible group of young ladies,” said Williston coach Kevin Tiller. “We are sitting right where we wanted to be when Coach Andre and myself sat discussing our schedule back in the summer. We knew the schedule would be tough and it was.”
The Red Devils played a pair of games against Oak Hall and The Rock, along with games against 2A No. 4 St. John Lutheran (Ocala) and 1A No. 1 Blountstown. They’ve also won four of their last five matches with the only loss a five-set defeat against 6A Buchholz.
“We felt playing tougher talent would put us in a great spot mentally and physically heading into this week,” Tiller said. “We head into districts as the No. 1 seed and right now we are No. 1 in the region (1A-Region 4) as well. The goal now is one game at a time and that begins tomorrow night with a very scrappy Wildwood team.”
Newberry will be the No. 1 seed in 1A-District 7. The Panthers (11-14) are looking to snap a two-game skid this week.
“Since last Thursday we have been fighting sickness,” said Newberry coach Hank Rone. “Hope we can be healthy and have everyone available. If we are healthy and more consistent with our hitting, we give ourselves a chance to win.”
Rone said his team needs to eliminate mistakes.
“We have to play smarter with our hits, blowing balls out of bounds or into the net isn’t ideal,” he said. “Serving is our key. Stay aggressive and try to keep the other team we play out of system and not able to run their offense. That is a major focus in our practices.”