ALACHUA - For the second straight season, the Santa Fe volleyball team will play for a state title.
The Raiders earned another berth to Fort Myers with a 3-0 victory over Tampa’s Academy of the Holy Names on Saturday afternoon - 26-24, 25-17, 25-14 - in the Class 4A state semifinals.
Freshman Jalyn Stout had 18 kills, 11 service points and 15 assists, senior Amelia MacCallum 23 assists and 11 service points, and sophomore Rylie Tam 12 kills and four blocks.
Santa Fe (21-9) will face 4A No. 1 and MaxPreps’ No. 15 nationally-ranked Lake Highland Prep (26-2) in next Saturday’s state final at 11 a.m. at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Raiders coach Eric Marshall. “I wasn’t sure. Bishop Kenny and this team, in watching film, are very athletic.
“We were nervous because of how athletic they were. We knew they were young like us. Their serve-receive was really good. So we have to raise our defense. Our girls were diving all over the floor.”
Sophomore Faith Marquis had 11 kills.
A year ago, as members of 6A, the Raiders lost to No. 1 Merritt Island in the state final. That was the school’s first state final appearance in 42 years.
But in two years at the helm, Eric Marshall has led Santa Fe to two state finals.
“Every point was super important,” Marshall said. “Once again, Jalyn raised it to another level as far as her athleticism. Rylie was key.
“We knew they single blocked the middle. So we knew if we could get the ball to Rylie, she would have a field day.”
Santa Fe led the first set 24-19 when the visiting Jaguars went on a late run. AHN won five straight points to tie the set at 24, when Marshall called a timeout.
But then freshman Ro’Miya Thomas delivered a huge kill for Santa Fe.
“We were loose after the first one, loose after the second one, and then we got so tight,” Marshall said. “The girls got scared.”
“But Ro’Miya, no fear, goes up there and rips the ball. And that jacked us back up. We will able to finish with that energy. When we get up by four or five, it’s tough for the other team because we don’t make a ton of errors. They (AHN) played well, we just raised our game.”
As a state finalist in 2018, Santa Fe was invited to the Nike Tournament of Champions, a national tournament in Phoenix. The Raiders went 2-5, losing to programs like Hagerty (No. 1 in 7A and nationally ranked).
Since coming back to Alachua, Santa Fe has won eight straight and are heading to another state final.
“That was some of the best teams in the country,” Marshall said. “We went three with them (Hagerty) and we should have beaten them. We know we can play with these teams, but they are bigger. So we have to be scrappy.”
Tam, who was there a year ago in a 3-0 loss to Merritt Island in the 6A final, getting back to state was the goal despite the loss of some key members.
“That was definitely my goal and the team’s goal,” Tam said. “We definitely hit some bumps in the road, but we kept the big picture in mind of winning state this year.
“We learned a lot on the Phoenix trip. It wasn’t the best trip because of the results and the volleyball we were playing, but we came back with a reality check that maybe we are not as good as we thought we were. Maybe we have some things we need to fix.”
“I am very excited, I can not wait,” Stout said. “It is my first year going to state final.
“These last few games meant a lot, and they have been the hardest teams we have played. I realized I needed to step my game up. I just want to win, play as hard as we can and win.”
Like a year ago, Santa Fe will have to topple the No. 1 team in their classification to win a state title. Lake Highland Prep, which won five straight 3A state titles from 2004-2008, has missed out title attempts in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
“We are going to play one of the best teams in Florida,” Marshall said. “We played those type of teams in Phoenix. Did we beat them? No. Did we learn a lot and have we improved? Yes.
“They are a heck of a team that we are going to have to play at a higher level. That’s what it is supposed to be at a state championship.”
NEWBERRY RETURNING TO STATE FINAL: At Branford, the Panthers, which in the previous two seasons played in 5A, returned to 1A this season and won at Branford 3-1 to earn a rematch against Sneads, which is going for its seventh straight state title.
Junior setter Sarah Miller had 41 assists and 13 digs, junior middle Grace Oelrich 12 kills and five blocks and junior opposite Nicole Everson six kills and five blocks as Newberry won 25-19, 23-25, 25-10, 25-13.
In the first two sets, the Panthers trailed in both early. They trailed 7-0 in the first and came back to win it. Down 19-6 in the second, and lost by two.
But in the third and fourth sets, Newberry dominated to earn a state final berth. The host Buccaneers, which knocked out No. 1 Bell and had great support on Saturday, ended their most successful season at 22-6.
“I believe the second set was the turning point,” said Hank Rone, former Gator and Newberry’s assistant coach. “Us making our run and almost winning set two gave us the momentum we needed.
“We knew if we could come out and start fast we could switch that momentum. We never looked back. I give Branford all the created. She (Mendy Sikes) does a great job with them. Scrappy defensive players. The crowd was unbelievable.”
Sneads swept Newberry in the state final when it was played at Ocala West Port. The Panthers lost to the Pirates in a five-setter in Newberry earlier in the season.
“We are excited to play again at state and against Sneads,” Rone said. “Our girls blocked well today and we kept them out of their system the last two sets.”