A trip to Chicago is a vacation, except when it isn’t.
Because for the Leon volleyball team, while the scenery and cuisine may have changed, the trip was for business in a region that owns some of the best players in the country.
The Lions lost three of five games it played at the Mizuno Cup in Aurora, Ill., but it also learned a lot. And they were things that translated over well in Tuesday night’s 3-0 sweep of Florida High.
“It was an invite-only tournament, and we were going up against 6-4 middles, 6-3 outsides, two girls at the pin at the same time that are over six feet,” Leon coach Angie Strickland said. “Most times you’re put in those positions, you come back to Tallahassee and you’re focusing on only one of those situations.”
Lions junior outside hitter Daijah Washington powered 13 kills and dug out nine balls in the dominating win, while using a devastating top serve to the tune of nine aces.
“We went to Chicago expecting good competition and we definitely got some,” said Washington. “But it was amazing to see how we competed with the big teams. We put up a fight.”
In a crushing 11-0 Leon run in Game 1, Washington posted five aces alone, which kept Florida High (19-5) and setter Miranda Watkins constantly out of system.
“It was definitely a wake-up call, and I think we learned a lot,” said Watkins, who had 15 assists and four aces in defeat. “We got to see some of our weaknesses and hopefully we can learn from them.”
Nylah Demps had nine kills, six digs and two blocks for the Seminoles, but not a set was close as Leon (15-9) commandeered the match with its stellar service. Florida High was topped 25-9, 25-15, 25-17 by Leon.
On her senior night, Lions setter Emily Dempsey registered 30 assists and dropped in three aces. And though she missed the Chicago trip with illness, she’s noticed how bigger tournaments have refocused the team on the goal at hand.
“I think we also did that after the Berkeley Prep tournament,” Dempsey said. “Seeing the harder competition, the bigger hitters, it really helps us prepare for here.”
Leon libero Elyse Thompson had eight digs, and Ashley Dodson notched seven kills and five digs, while middle blocker Caroline Kirk came up big with six kills and three blocks. Kirk was ever-ready to pound home a ball after Florida High struggled with serve-receive on Washington. Leon hosts the district tournament final versus either Lincoln or Chiles next week intent to keep firing on all cylinders, which many times starts with a single catalyst.
“Daijah brought it tonight,” Dempsey said. “She’s a very big motivator. When she’s on, it just brings so much energy to the court.”