Volleyball finishes as state runner-up

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photo by Shannon Hahn

The girls varsity volleyball team gets medals for the runner up finish. The team won seven matches in a row before losing in the championship game.

During the first set of the state championship game against Venice, the girls varsity volleyball team was down by six. They got possession of the ball after a kill by outside hitter Brooke Stephens and quickly made up the points and gained the lead. The score was 24-21 when libero Mayte Camacho served the ball, which led to a back-and-forth rally. Setter Brielle Mullen set the ball to outside hitter Jenness Orcutt, who spiked the ball and got the first set win.

After the first set, however, Venice came back, winning the next two. In the fourth set, Venice had an 8-0 lead when the team came back, cutting Venice’s lead to two with a score of 10-8. But a 15-8 run by Venice gave them the fourth set and the match, leaving Hagerty as the state runner-up.

“We knew it was going to be an emotional day no matter what happened,” Stephens said. “I wished it turned out differently than it did, but I am still so proud of this team and all of our accomplishments.”

During the game, the girls had long rallies which lasted 30 seconds or longer.

Camacho, the libero, anchored the defense with 34 digs and four assists. Stephens was the focal point of the offense with 20 kills and 12 digs. Orcutt continued the strong play she has shown during the playoffs with 10 kills and 10 digs, and Mullen, the setter, led the team with 37 assists and 18 digs. All four players had 100% serve accuracy.

To even get to the state championships, the team went on a seven game winning streak. The streak started off with a 3-2 win over Oviedo, which many of the girls describe as the turning point for the second half of the season.

“When we beat Oviedo on our senior night – after losing to them – it put a spark in all of us,” Camacho said. “Because of that win, we played our hearts out in every single game.”

Ending the regular season against Oviedo, the team came into the district tournament as the third seed, beating host Timber Creek 3-0 and top-seeded Winter Park 3-2 to win the title.

One of the main focuses for the team during their playoff run was to control their mindset. This was a problem early in the season, because, during games, when the other team gained a lead, the girls would start to get down on themselves and not be able to turn the game back around, according to Camacho.

“Mentality was definitely one of our main focuses during the playoffs because it caused us to lose games [earlier in the season] we definitely should have won,” Camacho said. “During the playoffs, we focused on lifting each other up and it worked.”

After the district tournament, the team won three games to get the regional title and advance to the state semifinals. They beat Bartram Trail 3-0, and then traveled to Winter Park to beat them again, this time on their home court, in another 3-2 win. In the title game against Lake Brantley, the team was on the road and the underdog again going into the game, but still won, 3-1.

“After winning the regional championships we sat down and had a long and serious talk,” coach Juanita Hitt said. “We talked about everything that we have accomplished and what our goals are. We made sure everyone was on the same page and was ready to work as a team to give the state championships the best shot we got.”

During this run, the team made some lineup changes that significantly affected their gameplay. For the first half of the season, the team ran a 6-2 offense, which meant they had two setters who split duties. They started to run a 5-1, with Mullen setting every rotation. In addition, Orcutt played the full rotation and freshman Faith Walsh got increased playing time.

“This lineup change was very successful for us,” Hitt said. “It allowed us to show something new to our opponents and it took them by surprise.”

During the season, eight of the team’s matches went five-sets. The team believes that those early five-set matches prepared them for the playoffs.

“It has helped us stay focused and committed during harsh games,” Mullen said. “It also helped us remember to never give up on a game.”

The team ended their season with a record of 22-9.

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