A succession of success has changed how Catholic High looks at its volleyball season.
“It’s now preseason to state,” said fifth year coach Guilio Simonelli.
The Crusaders advanced to the next step Tuesday night, following a straight set (25-11, 25-10, 25-9) victory against Marianna High in the Region 1-5A quarterfinals at Catholic High. It sends the Crusaders to face familiar foe Florida High in Friday’s semifinal game.
His team has won region championships the past two years and gone to the state final four. This year, without some of those four-year seniors as outside hitters, Simonelli remade the team and its style of play.
“The team is different, the culture is the same,” Simonelli said. “We don’t have the weapons we had last year. But I think the ball control, the defense, the passing might be a little bit better.
“I think the kids realize our way is to get better. We can compete defensively. There is a difference between having dominant players and having good hitters.”
This season, Catholic High (20-8) doesn’t have the same home-court opportunities in post season due to alternating year of bracket matchups. So the Crusaders will head to Florida High, a team that swept North Bay Haven last night in their regional quarterfinal. Should they advance, Catholic will likely be on the road next week in Jacksonville.
“Florida High is very good,” Simonelli said. “I think they have five or six returning (starters). They have one player going to University of Tampa, which is very good (NCAA Division II power). It is going to be a real challenge.
“Last year, if you would have told me are we going to win against Florida High, I would say 80-20 yes. This year, probably 50-50.”
The Crusaders’ three senior starters, Mackie Doyle, Bailey Burns and Payton Goff all had significant contributions in a game where Simonelli was able to freely rotate players off the bench.
Aside from the first point in the third set, Catholic led from start to finish in each set. Burns had eight digs, 18 assists, 11 kills, Doyle had a service ace, 10 assists, four kills. Goff had three blocks, two digs, five kills.
“We came prepared to play,” Simonelli said. “We have been playing a lot better at the end of the season. We had a very competitive season. Hopefully they stay focused. The kids are very motivated. We have a chance to three-peat to go to state (semifinals) and we can do it.
“Our ball control is getting better and our passing is solid. The young players are maturing.”
“We played such a tough schedule. Gulf Breeze twice, Niceville twice. McGill-Toolen. We have been … It has prepared the team for the competition.”
Without dominating hitters of past years, Simonelli opted for a different style this year and coached according.
“We adjusted a lot,” he said. “The way we approach the game is different. You have organize a team with the resources you have. We run a different kind of offense. We have set plays that are different… We put a lot more emphasis on ball control than in previous years.
“I think it is paying off. It took us longer. and we struggled. It was on the job training this year.. We had to embrace a new philosophy and the kids did it and I am proud of that.”
Region 1-5A Quarterfinal
Catholic 3, Marianna 0
25-11, 25-10, 25-9
CATHOLIC STAT LEADERS: Ellen Floyd 3 blocks, 6 digs, 25 assists, 9 kills. Bailey Burns 8 digs, 18 assists, 11 kills; Kayla Carrell 21 digs, Mackie Doyle 1 ace, 10 assists, 4 kills,. Payton Goff 3 blocks, 2 digs, 5 kills, Sydney Thomas 6 digs, 1 assist, Molley Majewski, 9 digs, 14 kills,
WHO: Catholic Crusaders vs. Florida High.
WHAT: Region 1-5A Volleyball Semifinal
WHEN: Friday, 6 p.m. (CST).