John Paul II headed back to 1A finals

John Paul II headed back to 1A finals

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John Paul II headed back to 1A finals

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GAINESVILLE

For the third time in four years, John Paul II will be heading to the state tournament in volleyball.

The Panthers rallied to beat Gainesville Cornerstone Academy in five sets – 16-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 15-9 – in the Class 2A, Region 1 final at the Family Life Center at Westside Baptist Church.

Ahead 2-1 and up 7-3 early in the fourth set, momentum was definitely on the home-standing Cougars side. But behind the relentless offense from 5-foot-11 outside hitter Jordan Bickett, who finished with 24 kills, John Paul II quickly closed the gap and after four ties, opened a 21-18 lead. Although Cornerstone battled back and averted two set points, the Panthers captured a 25-23 win on a Bickett kill.

From there, with the match tied at 2-2, it went into the 15-point fifth set, where again it started out tight, but after a 6-6 tie, John Paul II never trailed again. The Panthers scored the last four points of the match and Bickett ended it.

Just three weeks ago, Cornerstone (22-8) beat John Paul II in Tallahassee 3-1 in a regular season match.

“We watched how they played, we made a lot of adjustments all week in preparation for this match and executed everything we practiced,” said Panther coach Jessica Avant. “We knew it was now or never sort of thing. We just went back to everything we talked about in practice. We needed to start off with the pass, once we got our passes up for our setters, we got it into their court. That was the main deal. The girls really followed through and did what they were told to do.”

Maria Nixon had 14 kills and Marie Rooks had 32 assists and 12 digs for John Paul II (16-10), which will face Lake Worth Christian in Thursday’s state semifinals at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. The game is set for 4 p.m.

The Cougars dominated the first set, going on a 15-5 run, getting three aces from Haley Grooms and great play off the bench from Taylor Owens to build a 20-10 lead. John Paul II closed to within six but Cornerstone finished it out strong with a convincing 25-16 win.

The second set was tight throughout and after a couple of ties, the Panthers seized control and closed it out on a Maria Nixon kill for a 25-22 win, tying the match at 1-1. The third set was just as tight, but Cornerstone went on a 5-0 run to break from a 17-17 tie, and won it on a drop shot by Owens for a 25-21 win and 2-1 match lead.

The Panthers proved they were up to the challenge.

“I have to hand it to them, they did an amazing job,” said Cornerstone coach Stephanie Wyatt, whose school is only in its second year in the FHSAA. “They made fewer mistakes than we did. They forced us to make decisions and our decisions were always the smartest ones. When we took that second set, I thought we had the momentum, but then we got into some trouble. We could not close it out.

“I think it is their maturity of being there. They have been there quite a few times, and we are new to this. We just have to continue to mature. I’m proud of our girls.”

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