Volleyball regional semifinals to begin Tuesday

The next round of the FHSAA volleyball state tournament resumes on Tuesday night and there are several area teams still alive.

Santa Fe (Alachua) hosts Yulee in a Class 4A-Region 1 Semifinal.

Last week the Raiders (25-3), who are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and 11th nationally by MaxPreps, swept Pensacola in the quarterfinals.

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The winner of Tuesday’s regional semifinal will face either Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville) or South Walton (Santa Rosa Beach) in Saturday’s regional final.

Oak Hall School (Gainesville) received a bye last week. The Eagles (19-8) are the top seed in Class 2A-Region 1. They will face district foe Christ’s Church Academy (Jacksonville) in Tuesday’s regional semifinals.

“We need to play solid defense and key in on Christ Church Academy’s most prominent hitters,” Oak Hall coach Perry McDonald said. “For Class 2A, Oak Hall is fortunate to have a tall, strong and experienced presence at the net with every player standing 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11. We are also blessed to have quite a few players who can terminate the ball effectively.”

Senior Sophia Aulisio leads the team with 249 kills but all six of the Eagles’ front row starters either have over 100 kills each or are close to it. Their two setters, sophomore Lexi Jurecko and freshman Cassidy McDonald “do an outstanding job finding single blocks for our attackers and creating opportunities for our hitters to be successful.”

“The keys to our success have been that we are very good at making opposing teams uncomfortable,” McDonald said. “We challenge aggressively from the service line with seven different servers who can easily rattle off long chains of points when we are playing our best defensively and attacking patiently with few errors.”

McDonald also noted the Eagles find ways to take advantage of their opponent.

“When our opponents rotate into their unfavorable lineups we love to capitalize on the mismatches and rack up the points,” he said. “If we can play low error, mentally smart and emotionally stable volleyball [Tuesday] then we should enjoy a favorable outcome.”

Union County hosts Newberry in a rematch of a 5-set thriller won by the top seeded Tigers in the Class 1A-District 7 championship match almost two weeks ago.

“Last game we really focused on us and what we do well,” Union County coach Jordan Windham said. “We lost sight of that in the first set but came together and focused on our strengths and what we do best. After changing our mindsets and making adjustments, we came together as a team to get it done.”

Newberry won the first set, 25-15, but Union County responded with a 25-14 win in the second set and a 25-22 victory in the second set to take a 2-1 lead. After Newberry tied it at 2-2 with a 25-19 win in the fourth set, the Tigers won the decisive set, 15-11.

“They served really well at us and their two outsides had great games attacking us,” Newberry coach Hank Rone said.

Junior Jaycee Davis and senior Sabrena Howard had 21 kills and 18 kills, respectively.

“They both hit the ball extremely well on us and around our blocks,” Rone said. “Jordan has done a great job of getting the outsides the ball and her senior setter sets money balls for them to attack.”

Union County (14-8) won at Newberry in four sets on Sept. 14 but just edged the Panthers in the second meeting, 3-2, on Oct. 21.

“We have to be prepared from the beginning,” Windham said. “We struggle overthinking every aspect of the game, so we have to overcome that and make good decisions in the moment. We are going in with a plan and need to follow that, but we also need to be comfortable making quick adjustments.”

Last year the visiting Panthers advanced to the Class 1A state championship game. They enter the game ranked seventh in the state in Class 1A by MaxPreps while Union County is ranked fifth.

“Newberry has a strong offense that will get points, so we have to respect that and try to limit it as much as possible by not only putting up a tough defense, but by establishing a strong offense on our side,” Windham said. “It’s a competitive matchup between two quality teams. We are excited and look forward to a good game.”

Volleyball Bell's Nicole Shepherd (20) and Taylor Tompkins (44)

Bell will travel to Branford in a Class 1A-Region 3 semifinal. The top-seeded Bulldogs (13-12) were swept by No. 2 seed Dixie County (Cross City) in the 1A-District 6 title game on Oct. 21.

“Dixie County just came out and outplayed us that night,” Bell coach Drue Barry said. “They brought a big crowd and their girls got momentum and played well. We came out flat for some reason and could never get any traction moving forward.”

The Bulldogs had beaten them both times during the regular season so it’s possible they got caught looking ahead, according to Barry. But that’s something that he said won’t happen again.

“I have tried to stress to the girls this year that you must play your best every game,” Barry said. “I hate to lose but I told the girls that besides not being district champs the path stayed the same. Win or lose you still must win two games to get to the Final Four.”

Branford (12-6) defeated top seed Lafayette (Mayo), 3-2, to win the Class 1A-District 5 title.

“To get the win [Tuesday] night in Branford, we must play our game,” Barry said. “When we come ready to play, we can beat anyone we have to face.”

Bell won the only meeting between the two teams, 3-1, at home on Sept. 14.

“They will be ready to face us,” Barry said. “I expect a very big crowd at Branford but we will have our fans there as well so it should be a great atmosphere. We played most of our last half of the schedule on the road so playing in Branford should not rattle the girls.”

Regional Semifinals – Tuesday, Nov. 2

4A-Region 1 Semifinals

No. 5 Yulee (18-10) at No. 1 Santa Fe (Alachua) (25-3), 7 p.m.

2A-Region 1 Semifinals

No. 5 Christ’s Church (Jacksonville) (14-6) at No. 1 Oak Hall (Gainesville) (20-8), 6 p.m.

1A-Region 3 Semifinals

No. 4 Lafayette (Mayo) (17-8) at No. 1 Dixie County (Cross City) (14-9), 7 p.m.

No. 3 Bell (13-12) at No. 2 Branford (12-6), 7 p.m.

1A-Region 4 Semifinals

No. 4 Williston (8-10) at No. 1 Taylor (Pierson) (20-3), 6 p.m.

No. 3 Newberry (17-10) at No. 2 Union County (Lake Butler) (14-8), 7 p.m.

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