Hawks knock off St. Cloud in five-set district volleyball tournament thriller

Viera to play Melbourne Tuesday in semifinals


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Viera players react after Sydney Williams (No. 12) delivers the match-clinching kill in the Class 6A, District 15 quarterfinals Monday night. Viera defeated St. Cloud a 25-22, 16-25, 25-20, 15-25, 17-15 to advance to Tuesday's semifinals against Melbourne.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

It was one of those dramatic, season-defining moments for the Viera High volleyball program that could quite possibly propel the Hawks to new heights.

Locked in yet another five-set battle with St. Cloud in a district playoff game, both teams saved a match point before Viera’s Sydney Williams delivered the final kill to give the Hawks a 25-22, 16-25, 25-20, 15-25, 17-15 win.

The victory, which came in the Class 6A, District 15 quarterfinals, puts Viera (10-2) into Tuesday’s semifinal against top-seeded Melbourne (5-4). That match is scheduled for 5 p.m. at St. Cloud High School.

Seeds for this year’s district tournament were made by a computer-generated blind draw.

Viera and St. Cloud met in the district semifinals in 2018 and the championship game in 2019. Both times, St. Cloud won it in the fifth set, last year by a score of 15-13. A week later, the Hawks lost to Strawberry Crest in the opening round of the regionals, once again, 15-13 in the third set.

That’s why Monday night’s win was so big for the Hawks. It helped erase a lot of bad memories.

“I’m so proud of them,” Viera coach Sarah Wayne said. “At the beginning of the year, before we even started our season, we had a long conversation about what we wanted Viera to be.

“We had this monkey on our back. … We wanted to be the team that could finish, that could do it. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Sophomore Mak Carter had 17 kills, three aces and a block to help lead the Hawks. Senior Kennedy Boswell had 13 kills. Junior libero Hannah Bradford had 44 digs. Junior Kelly Merz had 30 assists. Freshman Mallory Merz had 11. Senior Lauren Lewis had 18 kills and three aces.

“It was really fun,” Bradford said of the match. “We really worked really well together as a team. We were great at supporting each other. We would pick each other up if we were down.

“We weren’t too light-hearted. We were very focused. It was just a great match all around.”

While the Viera gym was only filled to 25 percent capacity because of COVID-19 guidelines put forth by Brevard Public Schools, the people who did show up were loud.

That made for an exciting night in a match filled with momentum swings.

The score was tied at 22-22 in the first set before the Hawks reeled off the final three points to take a 1-0 lead. Back came St. Cloud, though, as the Bulldogs (11-2) took control of the second set to even things up. The third set was another close one with the Hawks pulling away to got up 2-1.

Once again, St. Cloud would answer, and that would bring up the deciding fifth set.

Viera jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, but St. Cloud started battling back and eventually tied it up at 13-13.

During a timeout, Wayne told gave her players some technical advice and told them what play she wanted them to run.

“If we get a pass, we’ll be fine. But if we don’t, just stay in the moment,’” Wayne told her team.

And that’s what her team did.

“This team has a lot of chemistry,” Bradford said. “A lot of us have been playing together for a lot of years. We just really fought for our seniors and to continue our season.”

Bradford certainly did her part, diving on the floor numerous times to try to dig out St. Cloud kill attempts. It was the second straight big match, Wayne said, where the Viera libero came up clutch for the Hawks.

“My mentality is nothing hits the floor,” Bradford said. “But I really just tried to be there for my team today. I knew that without playing hard on defense we weren’t going to be able to win.”

This was, without a doubt, a complete team win for the Hawks with every player on the floor – Bradford; Carter; Boswell; Kelly Merz; Mallory Merz; Lauren Lewis; Angie Durso and, of course, Williams contributing to the win.

“I’m so proud of her,” Bradford said of Williams. “I’ve played with her since I was eight-years-old. She’s a great player.”

Of course, now that the Hawks have vanquished St. Cloud, they have to make sure they don’t overlook, or come out flat, against the Melbourne Bulldogs in Tuesday’s semifinals.

“Oh absolutely,” Wayne said. “We beat them (during the regular season), but it was in four (sets). They’ve got some really good hitters. We’re going to absolutely play (hard) tomorrow.

“From here on out, everyone’s got that intensity that this could be their last match. We’re going to have to be on it every single time we step on the floor from here on out.”