Ridaught: Six area volleyball teams vie for spot in state semifinals

Six area teams have advanced to the regional finals and include (clockwise from top left) - Williston, Santa Fe, Union County, Newberry, Branford and Oak Hall.
Six area volleyball teams have advanced to Tuesday's regional finals and include (clockwise from top left) - Williston, Santa Fe (Alachua), Union County (Lake Butler), Newberry, Branford and Oak Hall.
Photos by C.J. Gish

This past Friday the Union County (Lake Butler) and Williston volleyball teams kept their state semifinal hopes alive following wins in the regional semifinals.

Both the Tigers and the Red Devils were in the Class 1A final four last year but had to go on the road.

However, this year Polk State College will host both the state semifinals and championship games for all seven classifications.

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

In Class 1A-Region 3, Branford swept Aucilla Christian (Monticello), while Union County defeated Lafayette (Mayo), 3-1, to advance to Tuesday night’s region final.

The Tigers (12-12) won the first two sets against the Hornets (12-8) on Friday, 25-22, 25-21, to take a 2-0 lead.

“We made a change in our rotation to get more consistent hitting, which seemed to help,” said Union County coach Tifani Knox. “We also started the game with a lot of energy and communicated well as a team.”

Union County's Rylie Parrish battles with Bell's Dacy Graham at the net on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Union County’s Rylie Parrish battles with Bell’s Dacy Graham at the net during the district semifinals.

The No. 2 seed Tigers will now travel to top seed Branford (23-4) in Tuesday night’s 1A-Region 3 Final. The first serve is at 7 p.m.

“We have to be successful at the net to win,” Knox said. “Their spread out offense makes it difficult to block which hurt us in our last match-up. Our backrow defense is strong but our block has to follow suit for us to be successful.”

Senior Kennedy Walker leads Branford with 240 kills, followed by with senior Jadyn Mosley with 206. Union County is led by sophomore Jailyn Simmons with 217 kills.

This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools, with Branford sweeping Union County in the previous three meetings, including a 25-15, 25-19, 25-18 win in the 1A-District 6 championship game.

“We also must be aggressive when hitting,” Knox said. “Branford isn’t a team that you can give easy balls to. I think it does benefit us to play them again, we know what to expect which makes it easier to make adjustments.”

Williston, which lost at eventual state champion Liberty County in last year’s state semifinals, defeated visiting Dixie County (Cross City) in four sets on Friday.

“The Dixie match for us was the first time all season long we won the long, scrappy ‘ugly’ points on a consistent basis,” said Williston assistant coach Andre Medina. “We strive to execute game plans, but sometimes pure intentional effort and competitiveness is what you need.”

Medina has been a key piece to the coaching staff, led by Kevin Tiller, who are both in their second year and looking to guide the Red Devils back to within a game of the state championship.

Williston's Grace Dola with a hit against Oak Hall on Tuesday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Williston’s Grace Dola with a hit against Oak Hall on Aug. 23.

“Year two at the program and the consistency of success and elevated expectations is exactly where we wanted to be,” Medina said. “With our program’s mindset of ‘getting better every day,’ and ‘controlling the controllable,’ what’s done is done. The challenges we have ahead of us we have prepared for, so there is no pressure really. At this point in the season it’s about heart and grit.”

Williston will host Newberry at 7 p.m. in Tuesday’s 1A-Region 4 Final.

It will be third meeting this season between the Red Devils (18-10) and the Panthers (12-12). Williston won both meetings in four sets.

“Third time playing anybody is tough, they’ve got film on us and they’re going to prepare hard to play us,” Medina said. “They are going to be a high-emotion team, fans are going to travel for this game, so the atmosphere at the Devils Den should be electric.”

Newberry advanced with a 3-1 win against Chiefland in the fourth meeting between the two teams, with the Panthers winning the last three meetings.

“They were better each time, was very tough to prepare for, especially when they are a solid, well-coached team,” Rone said. “Number eight, Anna Jane Meeks, really started hitting the ball and we were struggling against her sets three and four. I called my last time out and we were down 15-20 set four. I looked at my seniors and told them this is the time to dig deep. Chiefland has taken the momentum and they don’t want to go home. Fight for the girl next to you and nothing hits the ground.”

The Panthers went on a 12-5 run to end the match. Senior Sarah Watson played her best game of the year with 13 kills and 11 blocks.

Newberry advanced with a 25-19, 25-18, 25-27, 27-25 win against the Indians (13-12).

Despite a .500 record Rone said “it has been a solid year.”

Newberry's McKenzie Moses (left) and Sarah Watson go for a block against Taylor County in a preseason match on Thursday.
Photo by C.J. Gish Newberry’s McKenzie Moses (left) and Sarah Watson go for a block against Taylor County in a preseason match on Aug. 21.

“We had the seventh hardest schedule in 1A this year,” he said. “We played the top two 1A schools, and a total of five 1A teams in the top 10 during the year. Plus, Oak Hall and Columbia (Lake City) and a few bigger schools in the River City Classic. All that prepares you for the playoffs. This team made it to the regional championship, but no one gave us a chance. We used this as motivation for this year.”

Rone said this year’s team reminds him of the Panthers’ 2016 state runner-up team.

“I wouldn’t trade one of these players for any player on any team in our county,” Rone said. “This team has the biggest heart and love for each other. They play hard for the athlete next to them. Whatever happens Tuesday night, I know this team will have a special place in my heart.”

Senior Grace Dola leads Williston with 251 kills, while senior Hailey Tharp leads Newberry with 340 kills.

“We have to serve and serve receive well,” Rone said. “If we can serve them to stay out of system and not miss many serves, that will help us. We have to cut down on giving them aces. Grace Dola is the best player we have played against the last two years and she can beat you on her own, especially when they are in system. Our hitters need to try and match her.”

The last time the two teams played, a 3-1 Williston win at home on Oct. 10, Rone said Dola “had seven kills on us, from the back row attack.”

“We have to try and pass more of those attempts,” Rone said. “Coach Andre is one of the best minds in the game and will have a solid game plan ready for us. We just have to be ready for what he draws up. I see him coaching at a bigger school and becoming a head coach sooner rather than later. Last thing is we have to win some rallies. Williston has always been the toughest defense we played over the years. They dig balls up and you think that is a kill. Very sound and gritty defense team.”

Oak Hall swept St. Johns Country Day (Orange Park), 25-19, 25-19, 26-24 in the Class 2A-Region 1 Semifinals.

Eagles’ head coach Perry McDonald said there were quite a few key contributions that helped them advance to Tuesday’s region final.

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 Oct. 24.

“In the first 20 points of the match it was evident that both teams had come to play and were fighting for their postseason lives,” he said. “Deadlocked at 10 in set one, we proceeded to have one of our best serving nights of the season and while many of those serves did not result in aces it did force St John’s to play from out of system much of the evening.”

Junior defensive specialist Sara Duggan took top honors from the serving stripe with eight points and three aces. She also added 10 digs.

Senior outside hitter Pene Moser led the Eagle attack with 17 kills, nine service points, 10 digs, “and two very important assists.”

Sophomore OH Haley Janes (8 kills) and junior Setter/RS Cassidy McDonald (9 kills with only 1 error) provided balance to Oak Hall’s offense, making the Eagles difficult to defend.

Oak Hall rallied from 13-4 and 18-10 deficits to win the third set.

St John’s was at set point, 23-24, when McDonald tallied her 24th assist of the evening to find Moser for her 17th kill tying the set at 24.

McDonald then stuff blocked St John’s leading attacker, junior OH Brynn White, to lift the Eagles to match point.

Coach McDonald said that’s when Haley Janes made an incredibly improbable save diving into the stands to keep a ball alive where later in the same rally Moser found Cassidy on an out-of-system set for the match-winning kill, 26-24.

Now they get a rematch against Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville), which defeated the Eagles in five sets in last year’s regional final.

Oak Hall and CCA have ended each other’s seasons each of the past two years with the winner proceeding to the Class 2A Final.

CCA has won the last two meetings, a five-set thriller in last year’s regional finals and a two-set pre-season victory earlier this year.

“I’ve been prepping and strategizing since August for this opportunity and I am thrilled that we get to host Christ’s Church on Halloween night,” Coach McDonald said. “They are an exceptionally well-balanced attacking team that plays outstanding defense and is anchored by a stellar serve receive and a very talented and deceptive senior setter in Sydney Kambach.”

Kambach leads the team with 86 aces and a whopping 661 assists. Senior Nadia Mortensen leads the visiting Eagles (19-7) with 272 kills, followed by sophomore Julia Howard with 245 kills.

Moser has 281 kills to lead Oak Hall (24-4), followed by senior Ave Scorpio (247) and McDonald (216 kills, 506 assists).

Santa Fe volleyball team huddle
Photo by C.J. Gish The Santa Fe (Alachua) volleyball team and head coach Eric Marshall travel to Bishop Moore (Orlando) on Tuesday.

And in Class 4A-Region 2, Santa Fe (Alachua) is on the road at top seed Bishop Moore (Orlando) at 7 p.m.

The two-time defending state champions advanced with a sweep of McKeel Academy (Lakeland) last Friday.

“We thought we could expose them in serve receive, that seemed to be their only weakness, and we did,” Santa Fe coach Eric Marshall said after the match. “We kept them out of system, which really helped us, because if they’re in system we were having trouble stopping them. That’s when they made those runs when they were in system, because their middle could move everywhere, and we knew that. Keeping up with her, she was super athletic.”

The No. 2 seed Raiders are playing in their sixth straight region final.

The FHSAA Girls Volleyball state semifinals for Classes 1A and 2A will be played on Monday, Nov. 6 (TBD), followed by the championship games on Tuesday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, at Polk State College in Winter Haven.

Meanwhile, Gainesville’s season came to an end with a 25-22, 27-25, 25-22 loss at Chiles (Tallahassee) in a Class 6A-Region 1 Semifinal.

The Hurricanes (20-8) won 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003-2004.

2023 FHSAA Volleyball state playoffs 

All games are at 7 p.m. unless noted

Tuesday, Oct. 31

Class 1A-4A Regional Finals

Class 1A-Region 3

No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) (12-12) at No. 1 Branford (23-4)

Class 1A-Region 4

No. 2 Newberry (12-12) at No. 1 Williston (18-10)

Class 2A-Region 1

No. 2 Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) (19-7) at No. 1 Oak Hall (24-4), 6 p.m.

Class 4A-Region 2

No. 2 Santa Fe (Alachua) (21-8) at No. 1 Bishop Moore (Orlando) (21-8)

Enjoying our local sports coverage? Get Mike Ridaught's twice weekly sports newsletter in your inbox.
Sports Newsletter Form
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments