Preseason games are officially over.
The regular season officially begins tonight for high school volleyball, while football prepares for its official games on Thursday and Friday.
Preseason games were an opportunity to suit up against an opponent other than your own team.
What did we learn?
The Bell volleyball team played Eastside and Trenton on Saturday in their pre-season classic.
“I thought we did really well,” said Bell coach Drue Barry. “We won both games in a 3-0 sweep. We have some young players that will play a huge roll for us this year and I’m really excited to watch them grow throughout the season.”
Last year five area teams made the Class 1A state playoffs (Union County, Branford, Williston, Newberry, and Dixie County). However, the Bulldogs were not one of them.
But that could change this year.
“One of the big differences this year is I have talent on the bench that is ready at a moment’s notice,” Barry said. “I was missing my freshman outside (Gracie Joiner-Solis) Saturday and had Lizzie Bagby step in a do a great job.”
Bell, which was swept by eventual 1A-District 6 champion Union County in last year’s district semifinals, finished 14-11 against a difficult schedule and narrowly missed the postseason.
They get a good test to start the regular season tonight with a home game at 6 p.m. against Newberry.
“Newberry game is always fun,” Barry said. “I really like Hank (Newberry coach Hank Rone) and he always has them ready to play. Most of our games with them are pretty tight and could go either way.”
Last year, the Bulldogs, who return five starters, defeated the Panthers in four sets.
“This has turned into a great rivalry game that isn’t full of issues or bad blood,” Barry said. “Both teams love competing and I’m looking forward to it.”
Rone said his preseason went well.
“We have one of the fastest back rows I have ever had at Newberry with All Area libero Malana Kennard (junior) and 1st-year transfer DS Molly Enos (senior). They didn’t let a ball hit the ground it seemed like.”
He said during the preseason practices they worked extremely hard on their serving and that paid off against Taylor County (Perry) and Dixie County (Cross City).
“A pleasant surprise I had was with my two young sophomores Meadow Moses and Mia Stalvey, who both stepped up and played well on Thursday night,” Rone said. “And with six rotation player Chloe Jones out, I have confidence those two can pick up the slack.”
In 2022, the Panthers (11-16) lost a 5-set match to Dixie County in the 1A-District 7 title game and a 5-set match at eventual state semifinalist Williston in the Class 1A-Region 4 Semifinals.
Rone said tonight’s opponent is a good test for his team.
“We open with Bell every year and they are a tremendous program,” he said. “Coach Drue always has them ready and they will be up for us for their home opener. We have to serve and serve receive well. With one of our top hitters out it will be next player up and if we can keep our errors down and attack the court we will have a shot.”
The Bulldogs are one of four opponents this week for Newberry, which will host 2A regional finalist Oak Hall on Wednesday, followed by home matches against Trenton on Thursday and a tri-match in Newberry with 1A playoff teams Blountstown and Williston on Saturday.
“Bell does a great job of tipping to open spots on the court and they try to get you out of system as much as they can,” Rone said. “We have to run our out system offense well in order to stay in the game. Their student section is always rowdy when we come to play. Should be a good one.”
Williston, which lost at eventual state champion Liberty County (Bristol) in last year’s 1A state semifinals, went 2-0 last week during their Preseason Classics. They swept Wildwood, 3-0, and beat 4A Pedro Menendez (St. Augustine) in four sets, 3-1.
“We definitely have things that we need to continue to work on and get better as the year progresses,” said Red Devils’ coach Kevin Tiller. “Our senior leadership showed up on Saturday and I truly believe that this will be a vital part to our success this season. Grace Dola and Morgan Geiger both picked up right where they left off last year with incredible performances on Saturday.”
The Red Devils open the season on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. with a home game against “an Oak Hall team that is coached by one of the best volleyball minds in this area,” Tiller said of Eagles’ coach Perry McDonald.
“We always try to schedule tough early to help us set the tone for our season,” Tiller said. “Coach McDonald and the Oak Hall Eagles are returning a great core of players just like we are. This may be the best match on the schedule this week as a season opener.”
Tiller said there are several keys to playing well against the Eagles, who finished 24-5 last year.
“We will need to serve/receive very well all night to get into our offense,” Tiller said. “I am excited to get the season rolling because our young ladies have worked real hard this summer.”
McDonald said he had mixed results in a preseason classic at Christ’s Church in Jacksonville.
“We defeated Covenant soundly in two straight sets and then lost to Christ’s Church in two sets,” he said. “It’s the first time that we have been able to play legitimate matches and we certainly experienced some growing pains. I think that there is a lot of potential but we need to strive to perform at a consistently high level.”
Oak Hall’s game tomorrow will be the first of five matches that the Eagles will play this week to start off the regular season.
“Our match at Williston on Tuesday night should be a fun experience in a loud, hostile environment and the level of play should be stellar with Williston coming off a great season last year and a trip to the Class 1A Final Four,” McDonald said.
Other important volleyball games this week include 3A state semifinalist Trinity Catholic (Ocala) at two-time defending Class 4A state champion Santa Fe (Alachua) on Tuesday, 3A regional quarterfinalist P.K. Yonge hosts Trinity Catholic on Thursday, and 3A regional semifinalist Florida High (Tallahassee) at Santa Fe (Alachua) at noon (Tri-match with Buchholz).
Also, Oak Hall will host a quad match with P.K. Yonge, Columbia (Lake City), and St John Paul II (Tallahassee) on Saturday.
St. Francis Catholic Academy football coach James Langham said his program is “not the same St. Francis of old that everybody can just walk all over.”
“This team now understands we can score and we can move the ball,” he said.
The Wolves, who only won one game last year, had a 20-0 halftime lead against Franklin County (Eastpoint) in their Kickoff Classic this past Friday night before falling, 34-20, at home. He said the score could have been more in their favor if not for early miscues.
“Plus, we played with a total of 13 guys which when things started to really go downhill fast in the third and fourth quarters most of the time we were only playing nine guys on the field versus 11. Biggest lesson learned here is that my guys have grit and my guys are hungry to compete and win.”
He’s excited about the potential on the offensive side of the ball.
“Our high-octane offense will keep us in any game and our suffocating defense will give other teams problems moving forward, especially considering we are at 20-plus guys ready to play now versus the 13 last Friday.”
In one half of action, quarterback Cooper Lieffers completed 14-of-26 for 243 yards and two TDs while also running five times for 35 yards and one score.
The Wolves also had two receivers, Nash Lantinen (6-116-1) and Alejandro Delgado (6-103-0), both racking up over 100-plus yards receiving in the first half as well.
This bodes well for the season, which begins on Friday night at Class 2S Lake Weir (Ocala).
“Lake Weir is a tough matchup for us from a size and number perspective,” Langham said. “Yet, I don’t view it as one-sided as many others might expect this game to be. While it is true that they will have probably double the number of guys on their team as we do, there are only 11 guys on the field at a time and from a heart and skill perspective I like my 11 more.”
He said one of the keys is to start fast.
“If we can come out firing and stay on them we can put pressure on them to make this into a great game,” Langham said. “Key thing for us will be consistency and cleaning up some of the miscues from last Friday. Look for this game to surprise a lot of people in this area.”
There was a changing of the guard for the Buchholz football program.
New football coach Chuck Bell passed his first test with a convincing win against
“The Kickoff Classic was an outstanding opportunity to get our first live reps of the Fall against a quality opponent,” Bell said. “We were able to make it out of the game healthy and have some great film to teach off of. Overall, our staff felt like the kids played with good effort but we made a lot of typical Game 1 mistakes. The good news is everything is correctable and we look forward to fixing our mistakes in practice this week.”
The Class 4S Bobcats will travel to 3S Columbia this Friday night for the season opener. Both teams advanced to the state semifinals last season.
“Kicking off the regular season at Lake City will be another big challenge for our team,” Bell said. “It’s never easy to go on the road and win up there.”
Buchholz defeated Columbia, 31-14, last year at Citizens Field. The Bobcats defeated the Tigers for just the second time in the past 11 games.
“Even though the season is a marathon, not a sprint, it’s important to start the regular season off strong,” Bell said. “We just hope to continue building on the positives from last Friday night and to compete at a high level against Coach (Brian) Allen’s squad.”
The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country” beginning at 7 p.m. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.
Other key football games this Friday include Newberry at Santa Fe (audio online beginning at 7:15 p.m.), Chiefland at Williston, and Baker County (Glen St. Mary) at Bradford (Starke).