With catlike reflexes, Florida High sophomore setter Miranda Watkins dug a volleyball nearly on the floor.
With a little extra effort, Seminoles eighth-grader Madison Fitzgerald ran out of bounds and punched with her left hand and got the ball back on the other side of the net. Partly because of its never-ending resilience, Florida High was able to sweep DeFuniak Springs-Walton and advance a winner in Tuesday night’s Region 1-4A semifinal.
“You preach as a coach to never quit until the last ball hits the floor,” Seminoles coach Larry Sparkman said. “We looked real scrappy at times, and when we’re making those scrappy plays, it actually means we’re out of system and not playing well. But they don’t give up. They try harder to pull it out.”
Florida High (23-6) defeated Walton (18-10) 25-15, 25-20 and 25-17, but in the process found itself unable to operate as efficiently as it did in the regional quarterfinal. Yet every time the Seminoles needed to make a run, they would. Game 1 saw a 15-4 run to take control after being tied. Game 2 was a 7-0 streak after the Braves made a run to pull close. Fitzgerald’s punch in Game 3 allowed junior Savana Osterbye a chance to put down a kill, good for an 8-0 blitz.
“We know what we need to do and we just get it done,” said Osterbye, who had five kills.
Fitzgerald finished with seven digs, five kills and an ace.
“Even though she’s young, she learns quickly,” said senior outside hitter Marissa Sheals, who registered 11 kills and nine digs. “Being out there with her, it makes you work harder because you don’t want her to outplay you. We cheer her on, she cheers us on. It’s just a great feeling.”
While Florida High struggled with serve-receive on the night, making for games with several long rallies and a body-shaking sense of nervousness, Watkins was always around the ball trying to set her teammates up.
She finished with 24 assists and nine digs.
“Miranda is so amazing,” Osterbye said. “She’s always right there and always gets the ball up. She really helps the team come together.”
Florida High junior outside hitter Aeon West notched six kills and 10 digs, while junior Brittany Corbett added a team-high 15 digs. The Seminoles will now face a tough road match against either Jacksonville school Bolles or Episcopal to reach the state finals for the first time in many years.
“We have to play better than we did tonight, remain focused and just never give up,” Sparkman said. “This has been my goal since I got here, to get to the region championship. … Win one more match and you’re going to the Final Four.”
Haley Kole and Jade Strawberry combined for 25 kills and 23 digs to help Maclay sweep past Jacksonville Providence 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 in the Region 1-3A semifinals at Maclay. Gabby Maholanyi had 25 assists and Halle Scott added 10 digs for the Marauders (24-1), who will face either St. Francis or P.K. Yonge from Gainesville Saturday in the Region 1-3A semifinals.
Jordan Bickett led JPII with 13 kills, five aces and four blocks as the Panthers defeated Munroe 25-16, 25-17, 25-8 in the Region 1-2A semifinals. Marie Rooks had 29 assists and Lexie Andric added six kills for JPII (17-11). Mollie Edwards had 10 digs to lead Munroe (16-12).