Santa Fe High School (Alachua) is one win away from its first state volleyball title in school history.
The Raiders (28-3) advanced to their third state championship game in the past four years last Saturday by sweeping Academy of the Holy Names (Tampa) in last week’s state semifinals.
“They were very skilled,” said Santa Fe coach Eric Marshall. “Every time we got a four or five-point lead, they would reel us back in. They blocked us extremely well. Our serving in set two was the difference.”
Santa Fe, which was state runners-up in 2018 (6A) and 2019 (4A), will play Calvary Christian Academy (Fort Lauderdale) for the Class 4A state title at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
“Maybe the third time is the charm,” Marshall said. “I thought we kind of blew it last year. But we took ownership of it.”
Last year, the Raiders lost to eventual state champion Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) in the region final, but this year’s team has been on a mission.
Santa Fe, which is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and third nationally by MaxPreps, has won 15 in a row since a 3-2 loss to Ponte Vedra, which is ranked second in the country. The Sharks (29-1) will play Mater Academy (Hialeah Gardens) for the 6A state title on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Senior Rylie Tam, who has over 1,000 kills in her career, and junior Jalyn Stout, who has over 1,000 kills and assists, are two of the reasons the Raiders are back in the title game.
Tam and Stout have been going back and forth in kills all year, with Stout (373 kills) holding a slight lead over Tam (371).
“Tam is the hardest working kid I’ve ever seen,” Marshall said. “She is not satisfied with being good. She wants to be great.”
The pair have been great together, winning three AAU and one USAV national titles.
“They’ve been in big games,” Marshall said.
Senior Faith Marquis, who Marshall said, “always seems to make a big play,” and junior Myia Thomas make up the quartet of Raiders who have provided key leadership.
Marquis, who leads the team with 51 aces, is third on the team with 264 digs.
Thomas leads the team with 401 digs.
“Her volleyball IQ is off the charts,” Marshall said. “She is super consistent.”
Calvary Christian Academy, which has won 14 in a row, is ranked 66th nationally by MaxPreps.
“They are extremely skilled offensively,” Marshall said. “They have a very skilled setter. That’s difficult to contend.”
The Eagles (26-4) are led by Liberty University commit Taylor Bates. The senior outside hitter, who verbally committed at the age of 14, leads Class 4A in kills with 423. She also leads the team with 63 aces.
Bates is the school career record holder in points, kills, aces, and service receptions. The All-State selection has been a starter on varsity since 8th grade and captain since her sophomore year.
Senior Gabby Brissett, who is committed to Bellarmine University, is second on the team with 297 kills.
Junior setter Emily Navarro is second in assists in Class 4A with 854 and will be No. 1 after the match.
Arkansas Tech University commit Jenna Keller, a senior libero, leads the team with 372 digs.
“I think serving and defense will be the keys,” Marshall said. “They will get their kills, but we need to dig some of their balls.”
The fourth-year head coach made it clear that it’s championship or bust for his team.
“They’ve set a very high bar,” Marshall said. “Getting there is not good enough. We have to win a state championship for it to be a successful year.”