Four-time state high school girls’ volleyball champion St. Thomas Aquinas stepped it up another level this past weekend.
Playing in the nation’s top tournament, the Raiders faced some of the stiffest competition around and walked away with the Silver Division trophy at the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas.
The nationally-ranked Raiders (14-2), seeded fourth, finished ninth among the 64-team elite field in their tournament debut. It was the biggest tournament the Raiders have played in the program’s storied history.
Aquinas played seven matches that featured 16 sets and finished 5-2.
“This high-level play is exactly what we were looking for,” said St. Thomas coach Lisa Zielinski, before taking her team and coaching staff to a celebratory dinner at In-N-Out Burger. “It’s just another level. We are such a better team for playing these teams.”
Even more of a challenge for the Raiders was bouncing back from their first loss of the season in the opening game of pool play. Clovis West (Calif.) knocked off the Raiders, 25-20, 18-25, 25-23. In that game, Emma Dixon had 10 kills, 2 digs, 1 ace and 2 service points.
“There are so many good teams in California, these kids play high-level, low-error games even the non-top-ranked teams,” Zielinski said.
“Everybody was upset coming off the game. We didn’t play very well. We were terrible that first game. We struggled to do anything right. There were moments we played well but it wasn’t enough.
“We got ourselves in a hole we couldn’t get out of. It was not the way to start a tournament but we regrouped and rallied to start over. There was no way to go but up.”
The Raiders bounced back with a 25-16, 25-22 win over Los Alamitos (Calif.). Allison Marble had 9 kills, 1 assist, 7 digs, 1 ace and 9 service points. They then defeated Foothill (Nev.), 25-11, 25-9. Derry Costigan had 11 assists, 3 kills, 12 service points and 1 ace.
The Raiders suffered their second tournament loss to Xavier (Ariz), 25-20, 25-21. Dixon had 4 kills, 4 digs and 1 service point.
St. Thomas Aquinas finished out with three more wins. The Raiders defeated Marbourgh (Calif.), 25-16, 25-18 with libero Paula Cerame leading with 17 digs and 7 service points; defeated Kamehameha (Hawaii), 24-26, 27-25, 25-22 with All-Tournament selection Brook Bauer leading with 14 kills, 6 digs, 1 ace and 6 service points; and Edison (Calif.), 25-23, 25-19 with Allison Marble leading with 10 kills, 10 digs and 6 service points.
“I am very happy we were able to win some of those long rallies,” Zielinski said. “They kept digging us. We had a better transition ball and put the ball away.
“This was an awesome tournament. The teams that are here are high-end and really prestigious. Our kids were getting tired at the end. They are pretty tough kids. They traveled all this way and dealt with the time change. They executed and stayed focused.”
Westminster Christian (11-0) won the Orlando-Tampa Bay Volleyball Academy Winter Park Showcase. The Warriors defeated Lake Mary and West Orange in early matches and Spruce Creek in the final. Nikkia Benitez finished with 31 kills, 17 digs, 3 blocks and 6 points.
In the 24th annual Berkeley Volleyball Premier Tournament in Tampa, Venice won the title defeating previously undefeated Plant (11-1), 25-16, 24-26, 26-24. Earlier in the 16-team tournament, Pine Crest (9-2) defeated Berkeley Prep (7-1), 28-26, 22-25, 15-12.
Defending state boys champion St. Thomas Aquinas and Pine Crest won overall boys team titles and Ferguson won a girls team title Saturday at the 34th Spanish River Cross Country Invitational at South County Regional Park in Boca Raton.
The Raiders won the 4A and large school team titles with 48 points in their season debut. Belen Jesuit won the 3A title and was second overall among large schools with 91 and Naples was third with 138. Ferguson was fifth with 187 points.
The Raiders top finishers were senior Sean Breslin, third 16:12; junior Nicholas Rischar, fourth, 16:14; senior Pierce Statham, seventh, 16:26; senior Antonio Martinez, 12th, 16:52; and senior Christian Vitagliano, 22nd, 17:04.
The Wolverines top finishers were junior Josh Collins, second 15:59; sophomore Lucas de la Hoz, 16th, 16:54; sophomore Sebastian Roa, 20th, 17:03; senior Juan San Martin, 26th, 17:10; and junior Christopher Garcia, 27th, 17:12.
Columbus junior Deshay Fernandes continues to look impressive winning another individual title in 15:58.92, just edging out Collins in 15:59.84.
Pine Crest captured the boys 2A and small school overall titles with 59 points ahead of Calvary Christian with 83 and Westminster Academy with 100. Westminster Academy took the 1A title.
The Panthers top finishers were: senior Michael Kennedy, fifth, 16:30; senior Michael Cabral, seventh, 17:06; senior Ron Knezevich, 11th, 17:28; senior Matthew Stein, 16th, 17:39; and senior Alec Gugel, 20th, 17:50. All runners either ran a season- or personal-best.
Calvary Christian junior Danny Ferro was the top local individual finisher placing third in 16:15. Lincoln Park senior Caleb Pottorff won the individual boys’ title in 15:43, the only runner to crack 16 minutes.
Ferguson, one of Dade’s top girls’ teams, won the Class 4A and large school team titles with 106 points followed by Naples (122) and St. Thomas Aquinas (173).
Ferguson’s top finisher was senior Jazmyn Martinez eighth in 20:01. Joining Martinez were teammates: freshman Lisa Adjouadi, 12th, 20:22; senior Kaylee Alfaro, 17th, 20:55; senior Gabriela Crespi, 32nd, 21:44; and senior Minnell Fundora, 37th, 21:57.
Jupiter freshman Alexandra Del Re won the girls individual title in 18:11 for 3.1 miles. Mater Academy teammates Valerie Lastra, a freshman (18:15) and Jinah Mickens-Malik, an eighth grader (19:07) were second and third. Doral Academy junior Maria Fernandez was fifth in 19:13. Monarch junior Nicole McConnell was Broward’s top finisher placing seventh in 20:01.
At the STU Bobcat Invitational, Natalie Varela of Gulliver Prep and Will Shine of Archbishop McCarthy won individual titles in Miami Gardens. Varela, a freshman, won in 18:38. Shine, a senior, won in 16:33. Ransom Everglades, led by Top 10 finishers senior Beatriz Ruan, junior Hannah Tacher and eighth grader Fernanda Garcia Moreno, won the girls team title with 39 points. Key West won the boys team title with 39 points and Archbishop McCarthy was runner-up with 72.
Columbus won the rain-shortened Ida Baker Bulldog Invitational at Coral Oaks Golf Club. The Explorers won with a team score of 150, three strokes better than runner-up Sarasota Riverview.
The Explorers top finishers were: juniors Roberto Nieves and Joel Garcia Lee, both with 37s; junior Sharif Amastha and senior Robby De Paz, 38s; junior Tyler Whitney, 43; and freshman Ernesto Perabeles, 44.
Nieves edged out Lee for second overall on the scorecard playoff.
Archbishop McCarthy finished in a fourth-place tie with Lakewood Ranch with 155. The Mavericks’ top finishers were: freshman Justin Lilly, 37; senior Anthony Wells, 38; junior Eric Wagner, 39; junior CJ Cooper, 41; sophomore Ian Rodriguez, 42; and sophomore Case Hinesley, 44. Lilly tied for fourth overall.
The day-long 11-team tournament was shortened from 18 to nine holes because of rain.