You’ve heard the saying, “every now and then.”
Every now and then there comes along a team that you get excited about watching.
Buchholz and Hawthorne football have been like that the last couple of years.
The Bobcats, who host city rival Eastside tonight on local radio, made back-to-back state semifinal appearances and were fun to watch under quarterback Creed Whittemore, who was named Florida’s Mr. Football.
Hawthorne, with players like Jailen Ruth and C.J. Ingram, the son of former Gator and current Hornets’ coach Cornelius Ingram, won the Class 1R state title last year.
Santa Fe (Alachua) volleyball, with two-time Miss Volleyball Jalyn Stout, won 59 total games and back-to-back Class 4A state titles in 2021 and 2022.
Now, Gainesville volleyball could be that next fun team to watch.
The Hurricanes, who are ranked top 10 in the state in Class 6A by MaxPreps, started four seniors on Thursday night in a sweep of rival Buchholz on the road.
Three of those players are Division-I commits.
And despite the fact that the ‘Canes are just 5-3 overall, they are a legitimate threat to make a lengthy run in the 6A state playoffs with star player Brooklyn Tealer.
Tealer, who missed most of last year due to an injury, is a USC commit.
“I’m super excited to play with this team for a full season,” she said. “Not only me, but we had a bunch of players injured so I’m happy we have everyone back. We are way more cohesive and energetic than we’ve ever been before.”
Despite several team injuries in 2022, GHS (20-8) won 20 games for the first time in 18 years.
Tealer leads the team with 80 kills, including 43 kills at last weekend’s Nike Tournament of Champions in Tampa.
Kills might be the best word to describe her returns across the net.
“She’s something fierce out there, that’s for sure,” said assistant coach Courtney King who is filling in for head coach Chancie Vice (COVID-19). “She’s got a cannon on the outside and her defense in the back row has improved impeccably. She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. I’m super excited to have her on our team and a part of our offense.”
In the win against Buchholz on Thursday, Tealer had 20 kills and a phenomenal .708 hitting percentage.
“I didn’t get to see her play last year and as much as I hated her beating me up tonight, it was fun to watch,” Buchholz coach Joe Lamagno said after last night’s home loss to the Hurricanes. “I mean that was amazing. She’s next level.”
Seniors Meme Davis (Mercer University) and Charlotte Gravlee (Columbia) are the other Division-I commits.
Davis has 49 kills, a team-leading 77 digs, and she is second on the team with 15 aces.
“I think we definitely came back stronger this year than we were last year and we really just want to win,” Davis said. “In practices we have this board and we write words down that we want to work on to get us to state.”
Gravlee has 38 kills and leads the team with 21 blocks.
“I think that this has the potential to be a record-breaking season for GHS,” Gravlee said. “Last year was great but I think we can be even better this season. I think it’s going to take teamwork and every single player giving their all for the team, playing together, playing cohesively, and really having that hunger to win.”
There is young talent in junior setter Chloe Petrik (177 assists) and sophomore right-side hitter Rowan Kage (23 kills).
Last weekend, GHS defeated 4A state semifinalist Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville), the No. 5 overall team in Georgia (Sandy Creek), and 7A regional quarterfinalist Timber Creek (Orlando).
Their three losses were to defending 7A state champion Venice (22-4 in 2022), 7A Elite 8 Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs), and nationally ranked Pace Academy (Atlanta, GA), which is ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps.
“That Nike tournament is something crazy,” King said. “Last year we ended up taking first in the Diamond division. This year we got runner-up in the Silver division. We got off to a rough start on Friday but we came out Saturday guns blazing. It’s super nice to face that competition and see the adversity that we have to overcome.”
GHS will get a good test locally this Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the two-time defending Class 4A state champion Santa Fe Raiders.
Vice could be back for that game, but King has plenty of experience as the head coach, filling in for Vice some last year due to health issues.
“I coached intermittently last year for a good majority so this isn’t my first rodeo with these girls,” King said. “We definitely miss Coach Vice but it’s just nice to have that cohesiveness where we don’t have to worry about something like that.”
It’s almost like having two head coaches.
“Coach Vice coaches differently than I do and I coach differently than she does so it’s nice when our coaching styles come together and we can kind of merge them,” King said.
Tealer has high hopes for GHS volleyball, which is seeking its first state title since former coach and Athletics Director Cindy Boulware led the ‘Canes to back-to-back 4A state titles in 2003 and 2004.
“By the end of the season I’m super excited to see where we’re at,” Tealer said. “I think it will be great, like a new caliber that our school hasn’t seen in so many years.”
Before Wednesday’s showdown against the Raiders, GHS will travel to 6A regional semifinalist Ponte Vedra at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
They also have a pair of games against 5A state semifinalist Vanguard (Ocala), a trip to 3A state semifinalist Trinity Catholic (Ocala), and will play at the Battle at the Beach in Venice (Oct. 6-7).
The talent is there but their success is based on how well they play together as a team.
“I think we can go all the way this year,” King said. “I definitely think we have it in us but they just have to pull it out of themselves. I can only do as much as I can, and Vice can only do as much as she can, half of the game is up to them.”
Ridaught: GHS volleyball has potential to be special
You’ve heard the saying, “every now and then.”