Knights win thrilling 5-set road match against New Smyrna Beach the Class 7A state semifinals

NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Sometimes, the smallest of words can describe the most memorable of sporting events. So, here it goes ...

Wow.

In what no doubt will go down as one of the most talked about matches in the history of a very strong program, the Vanguard volleyball team traveled to New Smyrna Beach and outlasted the host Barracudas 22-25, 25-23, 13-25, 25-20, 21-19 in a Class 7A state semifinal on Saturday afternoon.

It was one of those contests where serves found the lines and seemingly definite kills bounced upwards, saved by the knuckle of a diving defender.

Often, no point was a point without a few false finishes.

So, that’s why when Tamrin Woosnam’s victory-clinching block landed in bounds, VHS senior setter Grace Letterly said she looked around, knowing someone had to have made a miraculous dig.

But, then she and her teammates found themselves in a dogpile, and suddenly — finally — it was all real.

“I’m so excited we’re going to state,” Woosnam said. “There’s just so much excitement. We really are going to state.”

Yes, the Knights (26-4) are, and now, only a date with Stuart South Fork (20-9) next Saturday night in the Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers stands between VHS and the third FHSAA championship in school history.

“We need to do this,” said junior outside hitter Alexa Schmidt, who led all players with 29 kills against NSBHS (28-4). “What happened my freshman year (a 4-set loss to South Fork in the final) is not acceptable again. We need to do this for our seniors (Letterly, Essence Bell and Jamie Stephens).”

But first they had to get through the balanced Barracudas, who entered the day 10-0 at home this season with four seniors who have earned scholarships to play in college next year. And they also had relentless junior libero Alyssa Guarino, who finished with 46 digs, some of which were of the “did you see that?” variety.

And New Smyrna Beach looked to be in control after taking a back-and-forth first set and jumping out to a 17-13 lead in the second. However, Vanguard was resilient, chipping away until the score was 23-23. And there, Rena Ashley (15 kills, 23 digs) and Schmidt pounded the ball into ground off sets from Letterly (49 assists) to even the match.

“Alexa Schmidt is a great athlete,” Barracudas’ coach Brittany Owen said. “She’s going to score. You just have to do the best you can with her.”

The Knights followed that up with what Woosnam, Schmidt and coach Randy Ewers admitted was a stinker of a third game with another comeback in the fourth, rallying from a 14-9 deficit to force a decisive fifth.

And that’s when the fun really began.

Behind Palm Beach Atlantic-bound setter Brooke Taylor (56 assists, 10 kills) and Jackson State middle blocking commitment Taila Gaines (12 kills), the Barracudas opened up a 5-1 lead in the first-to-15, win-by-two final set.

Vanguard got it to 5-5 on kills by Schmidt and Ashley, a hitting error by NSBHS and an ace from Letterly. But the Barracudas responded by winning 6-of-the-next-7 points, two of which came on consecutive aces by Daytona State-bound Kylie Smith.

However, down 11-6, VHS eventually tied the match at 14 with Kyndall Kalb knocking down two of her eight kills in the run.

From there, New Smyrna Beach served for the match at 15-14, 18-17 and 19-18, while Vanguard did the same at 16-15, 17-16 and ultimately, 20-19, when Woosnam’s block secured Bell’s 13th service point and the win for the Knights.

“The girls never stopped fighting,” Ewers said. “They never gave up. They found a way to win against a talented and well-coached team.

“I couldn’t have asked for more from them.”