Ponte Vedra (24-6) advanced to its third FHSAA volleyball state final in the last four years with Saturday afternoon’s sweep over Port Charlotte.
"Let's not ease into it. Let's go in. Swing hard, let's jump on them right away."
That is what Ponte Vedra volleyball coach Robin Mignerey told her team prior to Saturday's Class 5A state semifinal against visiting Port Charlotte. The Sharks did as was asked and earned a trip to next week's state championship game because of it.
Ponte Vedra (23-6) swept Port Charlotte 25-21, 25-15, 25-21 on Saturday afternoon to set up an encounter with Ocala Vanguard (16-10) in Fort Myers on Nov. 16.
"The connection we have as a team really drives us to do our best and make it as far as we have this year," said Ponte Vedra middle hitter Zeta Washington, who finished with 11 kills, three blocks and three aces.
Washington was not able to have the outsized impact that she has most of the season. But, that was a testament to the middle hitter standing across from her. Port Charlotte junior Azyah Dailey led the Pirates with 14 kills. Even balls the 6-foot-2-inch Dailey didn't get down left Ponte Vedra scrambling to remain in system.
Ponte Vedra has eased its way into matches this postseason, but the momentum quickly swung their way. The Sharks won nine of the first 12 points when Port Charlotte middle Alysa Taylor fell awkwardly.
Taylor did not return. Her absence led to Port Charlotte inserting 5-foot-8-inch right-side hitter Madelyn Paul into the lineup as a middle hitter.
"That was tough because you have someone who is not used to playing that position trying to pick up a quick offense," explained Port Charlotte volleyball coach Christine Burkhardt.
Port Charlotte's coach said Paul did not skip a beat when inserted into the lineup. However, the combination of the Pirates watching one of their starters helped off the court sapped the visitors of the opportunity to pressure Ponte Vedra early in Game 1.
Throughout the postseason, Ponte Vedra has not started matches quickly. It's something the players and Mignerey were aware of, and an issue they did not want to replicate against a team that was making its first appearance in a FHSAA state semifinal in 31 years.
"It got in our kitchen a little bit," Burkhardt said. "It's that 'Oh crap moment. What are we going to do now' sort of thing. It was a big thing. Even though I have total faith in Madelyn, any change like that is hard."
Port Charlotte trailed 20-13 at one point in Game 1, but the Pirates (17-13) won six straight points to pressure the hosts. At 20-19, Washington's attack hit the net and fell in to give the Sharks a two-point advantage.
A pair of errors from the Pirates extended the lead and allowed Ponte Vedra outside hitter Logan Mignerey to end the game.
Game 2 was not close and Game 3 appeared to be on its way to a similar conclusion. Burkhardt called timeout trailing 13-9 in Game 3, only to watch Ponte Vedra win five of the next six points.
Mignerey's 13th kill of the night gave Ponte Vedra match point, leading 24-15. But, Port Charlotte pushed, pressured and used Dailey to whittle away at the deficit. A Ponte Vedra timeout still couldn't staunch the momentum.
Finally, Mignerey-- playing her final home match-- terminated to end the match and send Ponte Vedra to its third state final in the last four years.
"It's exciting for our program," said Robin Mignerey. "We've been strong. It's a culture of the girls coming up.
"These girls played two years ago (when we won the state championship) -- some of them did. But, there were girls practicing in the gym every day fighting for spots on the team. We have that with our bench now. ...We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of fun in practice. The girls are being pushed day in and day out. They know they have to push all the time."