There are few parallels between last year’s Fort Myers volleyball team and this year’s.
In 2014, the Green Wave had a senior-laden team that needed to stumble in a district final to find itself. There is just one senior this season on a squad that rolled through its district tournament, regional quarterfinal and semifinal with its sole motivation being no one thought they would.
Both teams reached the regional finals. With a victory in straight sets (25-21, 25-19, 25-22) over Barron Collier on Saturday at home this year’s team hopes that’s where the comparison’s end.
The Green Wave came up one game short of the state semifinals when it was swept by Lakewood Ranch last season. This year, it is headed to Punta Gorda on Tuesday to face Charlotte in a Region 6A-3 final.
“I’m thankful for everyone on the team for stepping up and staying together and keeping positive,” senior middle hitter Kaitlin Stewart said. “This is my last chance to make it to states. I feel like everyone has put forth the best energy they could and the best communication to make the best out of the game.”
Lena Knox had 12 kills, 13 digs and two aces while Alayna Ryan finished with seven kills, 10 digs and two aces as Fort Myers was tested in all three sets by the Cougars, trailing late in the last in the last two.
After holding off a late Barron rally in the first set, Fort Myers fell behind 16-12 in the second before ripping off 13 of the next 16 points led by kills from Ryan, Sadie Davis, Stewart and Knox.
Three Cougar mistakes sealed the set for the Green Wave.
“We all play so hard,” said junior setter Erin Gear, who tallied 32 assists and 10 digs. “I think it’s amazing that we got the chance to prove everybody wrong because a lot of people didn’t have faith that we’d make it this far. We were able to come back and show them what we’ve got.”
For the most part, Fort Myers was able to minimize the damage from Barron Collier’s big hitters — Jennifer Coxwell and Dayna Grigsby — by being aggressive and finding seams with its serves.
The Green Wave, which received 14 digs and an ace from Casey Adams, jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the third set, but Coxwell and Julie Tanner willed Barron back into it. The lead shifted four times from there with the Cougars cutting the lead to 21-20 before being done in by errors again.
If Fort Myers can get past Charlotte on the road it will host the state semifinals, making a return to the Final Four for the first time in four years.
“They work hard and they don’t give up. They have really great team chemistry,” Green Wave coach Stephanie Martin said. “There’s not one player on the team who is the key player. We play as six.”