FLEMING ISLAND – After losing a 3-0 match to district 4-8A rival Bartram Trail on September 4 and a 3-2 match to Gainesville Buchholz on August 28; both the district 4-8A finalists, the Fleming …
FLEMING ISLAND – After losing a 3-0 match to district 4-8A rival Bartram Trail on September 4 and a 3-2 match to Gainesville Buchholz on August 28; both the district 4-8A finalists, the Fleming Island High volleyball girls have surged into a new stratosphere with 17 straight match wins; among the list, Bartram Trail, Buchholz, Ponte Vedra and Ponte Vedra.
At Saturday’s St. Johns River Athletic Conference championships, Fleming Island took one more step toward one of the best seasons in school history with a first-ever conference title, first, and, second, with a huge win over 7A-power Nease High School.
“It’s been all about the kids coming together as a unit,” said Fleming Island coach Amy Walker, 20-2 and ranked sixth in Class 8A by Maxpreps, who has taken down all comers from class 4A, 5A, 6A, 7A and 8A to put together their win streak with the Nease win coming after an explosive win over 4A state semifinalist Providence (ranked sixth in 4A by Maxpreps) on October 2. “We know our opponents are seeing how our games are going and how we are doing and they are going to bring their A-game against us. For some teams, beating us now is like their Super Bowl.”
Fleming Island originally entered the tournament as a top seed, but a seed changing also changed the tournament opening matches to have the Golden Eagles not face Middleburg, but face off against 6A-Matanzas and 6A-Menendez before taking Nease in three games with a final 15-11 match win. Nease, currently ranked ninth in 7A by Maxpreps, was the district 3-7A champion and a region semifinalist last year.
“We made a strategic move to stretch our blockers across the top of the net instead of straight up to cut down the angle that Nease’s big hitters could get through” said Walker. “Rayna (Durden) and Miah (Pena) were strong in that final game because we knew they were going to come at us with everything they had.”
Also at the SJRAC tournament, Middleburg, in district 3-7A with Nease, upset the much-anticipated clash of Fleming Island and BartramTrail in the final with a first round upset of the Bears behind strong play from hitters Mallory Roney and Jillian Bemis, who took on the Bears’ 6’-6” inside hitting of senior Alexis Kuehl.
“When we play smart and aggressive, we are very good,” said Middleburg coach Carrie Prewitt. “We knew she was going to be formidable wherever she was and we had to go around her.”
Middleburg won the best of three match with a final 15-11decider, but lost to Nease in the semifinal to face and beat 6A-Pedro Menendez for third place.
In the seventh place match, Orange Park, who opened with a loss to Nease and second round loss to Bartram Trail, finished with a win over Matanzas.
“Our two main hitters have had shoulder problems as of late and we slipped a little,” said Orange Park coach Katherine Ruelas. “We hope to be strong to take on our district with Ridgeview staying unbeaten in district play.”
With district tournaments set to start Mon., Oct. 15, coach Walker is aiming for the district final that has eluded the power-packed Golden Eagles lineup in recent years.
With their most recent wins; a 3-1 win over 4A state runnerup Providence on October 2 followed by a 3-0 win over district 3-8A’s Fletcher High, the defending 3-8A champion and a first round playoff loser to BartramTrail, Fleming Island (17-2, 6-2) moves into the final week of regular season play with Keystone Heights, Ridgeview and Orange Park before district tournament play hosted by Bartram Trail High School.
Also in district 4-8A, Oakleaf (7-15, 0-7) has had a slew of unfortunate injuries after a 4-1 season start and have lost their last 11 of 12 games. The Knights were ready for a turnaround season with wins over Baker County, Orange Park, St. Johns Country Day School and Keystone Heights before the losses started to pile up with wins over Maclay, Johns Creek and Mandarin in the mix.
Keystone Heights, in district 4-5A, is 14-7, 6-3 and sitting behind Newberry High, at 15-7, 10-0 in district play, and with a recent win over the Lady Indians. Taylor High, 20-4, but 3-3 in district play, looms as the threat to a Keystone Heights vs. Newberry final as both teams have split in regular season play. Newberry’s regular season losses have come to 7A-Gainesville, 8A-Fletcher, 5A-Bolles and 5A-Florida State University High (16-6). Newberry did win one game over Bolles at the Bolles Invite.
Keystone Heights finishes with Interlachen, Ridgeview and Fleming Island before the district 4-5A tournament; hosted by Interlachen High School.
Ridgeview, the three-time defending district 4-6A champions under coach Destiny Brightman, have won the right games to repeat that task with an 8-12 overall record, but 4-0 in district play with a strong 3-1 win over Baker County September 27.
Brightman lost the services of two key players to a car accident, but both are recovered and expected to be full-go by district tournament time. A 3-0 loss to Stanton (16-2), whom Ridgeview has faced in the past three region openers and beaten, offers a readiness question, but final games with Keystone Heights and at Fleming Island will certainly answer that readiness question.
Also in district 4-6A, Orange Park sits in the third seed spot at 6-10, 1-1 with final games against Clay and Fleming Island. Orange Park does have a 2-1 win over Ridgeview in tournament which may be enough of a confidence booster to be a surprise in the tournament.
Ridgeview will host the district 4-6A tournament.
In district 3-7A Middleburg, always in mix under long-time coach Carrie Prewitt, is at 10-9 with a 3-1 record against Nease High, the top squad at 16-8, 4-0. The home court advantage for the Lady Broncos could prove to be pivotal if the Bronco Gym rises to the occasion.
Prewitt commented after a 3-0 win over Ridgeview last week, that her concern is not what other teams bring to the gym, but what her team does to not finish games.
Nease knocked out Fletcher on October 1, but lost to Ponte Vedra, the 6A defending champion, on October 3 with a final game October 8 against Bartram Trail.
Middleburg, a after a rugged 3-2 loss to Nease at home on September 18, lost a tournament match, 2-1, against Nease at the Elise Bush Invite at Bolles on September 28 so there is some light for a district tournament final for the Lady Broncos.
Clay, in district 5-6A (5-13, 3-3), has stayed alive against two of the best area teams; Ponte Vedra (16-2, 9-0) and Menendez (15-5, 7-2), but both will offer tough play in tournament time. The Lady Blue Devils did knock off Ridgeview in September. Clay ends their regular season with Orange Park October 9.
Menendez will host the district 5-6A tournament.
In district 2-3A, St. Johns Country Day School will host the district tournament with the Lady Spartans staying within reach of the top two teams; defending 3A champion Christ’s Church Academy (16-5, 6-0) and Warner Christian Academy (11-5, 5-2) with Lady Spartans at 8-7, 4-2. Both of St. Johns district losses were to the top two teams with the Spartans taking on bigger schools such as 6A-Orange Park, 8A-Oakleaf and a final district game against Christ’s Church on October 9.
St. Johns finishes with Bishop Snyder (Oct. 10) and Bolles (Oct. 11).