Girls volleyball finishes in final four

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photo by Chatham Farrell

Hitter Leandra Mangual serves the ball in the regional final match against Plant. The team won 3-1.

Michael Gibson, Sports editor

This time last season, the girl’s volleyball team was on the way to their first ever state championship appearance, before falling short to Plant in a game that stuck in the minds of the returners. This season, after making short work of many of their opponents, the team faced Plant in a regional finals rematch, where they won 3-0 and advanced to the final four.
The girl’s volleyball team made history with a third straight district championship and their first ever regional title. The team finished 21-2 overall, sweeping 19 of the 21 wins, 3-0. After sweeping Plant in the regional finals on Tuesday, Nov. 7, the team advanced to the state final four where they lost to Leon 3-1.
”We have been able to play together as a team,” middle Audrey Douglas said. “It has been fun because we have been successful and we have been rewarded for all of our hard work.”
The team was able to win regionals this year, but last year was a different story as they lost in the finals to Plant. Due to the team’s record, they gained home-court advantage this year and they swept Plant, 3-0, off of a strong performance by hitter Sydney Conley who finished with nine kills.
From the first match, both teams seemed about even and the team was able to squeak by with a 25-23 win. Using the momentum from the first match, the team was able to go on a 4-1 run at the end of the second match to win, 25-22. Hitter Leandra Mangual, who sat out most of the third match, also had nine kills and 14 digs. The team was now up 2-0 in the match score and Plant started to give up. Douglas and Conley barraged Plant with kills as the team won the third match 25-18, and ended Plant’s season.
“[My favorite game] was definitely Plant because we had a huge crowd,” Mangual said. “It was a revenge game because they knocked us out of the playoffs last year.”
Though the record made the season look smooth for the team, they had to deal with the absence of their head coach Juanita Hitt through the first few games because of medical issues. The team remained undefeated throughout her absence as assistant coach Sarah Jarem stepped up to coach the team.
”It’s been great to be able to come back and pick up where we left off when I was out,” Hitt said. “We worked on a few things and have focused on getting better each day.”
Despite the changes, the team won a third straight district title by defeating Harmony, 3-0, whom they would sweep again in the regional semifinals. The district championship gave the team a lot of momentum and the hope of going to states for the first time.
“We have several girls who can play and compete at a high level and that is huge for us,” Hitt said. “They bond great together on and off the court and they are just great all around kids.”
The team is young this season, consisting of only three seniors, and three juniors including Mangual, Hitter Morgan Romano and setter Corina Dos Santos, who are also team captains. Mangual leads the team in total kills with 207 and also in total digs with 273, while DosSantos leads the team in total assists with 479. The team captains were also tasked with bringing the team together during the absence of Hitt.
“Our captains have done a great job with team bonding,” Hitt said. “They had a Halloween party and they go over to other player’s houses as a team to hang out and in general a lot of them hang out together outside of school.”
The team’s only two losses of the season came to cross-town rival Oviedo, both times 3-1. Oviedo is ranked first in the state as opposed to Hagerty being ranked seventh. Oviedo would later be eliminated from the playoffs losing in the class 9A regional finals to West Orange. Even though the team lost both times to Oviedo, they believe they can beat them if they played them again.
“We could win if we played them again because we almost beat them the last time and our team dynamic has improved a lot,” Mangual said. “Our passing is a lot better now too.”
The team ended their season at the state final four in the loss to Leon. This team was one of the most successful in school history and is showing signs of promise for next season. The team will have nine confident returners who know what it takes to get to states.
“[This season] has meant a lot to me because it is the best team we’ve had in the last three years and this is the farthest we’ve gone,” Dos Santos said.

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