It was a night of celebration for the Viera High volleyball program on Thursday.
First, the team held Senior Nigh ceremonies for Sydney Williams, Mak Carter, Hailey Hubbard and Kendall McClenahan. Then, the Hawks went out and defeated the Holy Trinity Tigers 26-24, 15-25, 25-16, 25-16 for head coach Sarah Wayne’s 250th career victory.
“I’ve been in this program for four years now, playing for Coach Wayne on varsity, going through so many great players and playing with amazing people,” Carter said. “They’ve built me into who I am, so to celebrate me as a senior … it’s just amazing.
“I’m so happy to be here and be surrounded by so many great people in the stands and on the court. It was a great game.”
The Hawks (16-5), who are looking to go even farther than last year’s state final four appearance, closed out the regular season winning four of their last five matches.
Holy Trinity (17-6), meanwhile, had a 12-match winning streak snapped with Thursday night’s loss.
“Our ball control wasn’t good enough, our serving wasn’t good enough and our blocking wasn’t good enough,” Tigers coach Pete Klonowski said. “We depend a lot on first contact, whether it’s our serve, our serve-receive, our block or our defense.
“We weren’t that crisp today. We’ve got to get better. Tomorrow, we’ll be back in the gym and we’ll be prepping to run through districts.”
The Tigers are scheduled to open Class 3A, District 6 tournament play at Edgewood Tuesday night at 5:30 against the winner of Monday’s MCC-Cocoa Beach first-round matchup. The district final is set for Thursday night.
Viera will also be hitting the road. The Hawks are scheduled to play at Martin County High School Wednesday at 5 p.m. against either Melbourne or Heritage. The Class 6A, District 8 championship match is also scheduled for Thursday.
If Viera and Holy Trinity were looking for one final big test before the postseason, they definitely both got it in this one.
The first set saw the score tied 12 different times before the Hawks were able to rally from being down 24-22 to score the last four points and take it 26-24 for a 1-0 lead.
Holy Trinity would answer by dominating the second set before Hawks were able to open up big leads in both sets three and four to come away with the win.
“I think we underestimated them a little bit,” Williams said. “We couldn’t walk out there and just do whatever. We needed to play. … Our energy was low (in the second set) and that’s why we weren’t getting the momentum on our side.
“We knew going into the third set we were really going to have to pick that up.”
In addition to picking up their energy, there were two key areas Wayne felt the Hawks needed to improve on to get the win.
“We weren’t playing very good defense, and we weren’t passing very well,” she said. “We just said we had to pick up the passing and pick up the defense. Holy Trinity’s a great team. Once we picked those two things up, our offense is going to speak for itself.
“I think we kind of got in our heads a little bit. We made the adjustments and figured out where we needed to put the ball.”
Sophomore Isabelle Clark led Holy Trinity with 10 kills. Senior Sophia Panarese and freshmen Nicole Oswell and Audrey Herbert all had eight. Senior Bella Rogers and junior Natalie Rhodes were next with four each.
Clark also led the team with two blocks while Herbert and Oswell both had one. Senior Kareena Mathews led the Tigers with three aces. Junior Maya Collins had two.
Rogers had 20 digs for Holy Trinity. Collins had 19 while Rhodes finished with nine and Panarese had eight. Junior Marley Kellar was next with five.
Rhodes was the top setter with 34 assists. Collins had three and Panarese and Rogers each had two.
Despite the loss to Viera, the Tigers, who beat Kissimmee Osceola – ranked No. 11 overall in the state in the latest FHSAA rankings – just a night earlier, feel good about themselves going into the postseason.
“I think we’re ready,” Klonowski said. “I feel good about it. We’ve been playing really, really good until tonight. We’ve won a bunch of matches in a row. Last weekend, we won a tournament over in Orlando.
“I’m happy with how we’re playing. I just think tonight … part of it, I’m sure, is that they enacted some pressure on us. But part of it is we didn’t bring our best game. It is what it is.”
For Viera, which once again had an enthusiastic, vocal crowd to play in front of, the night was certainly memorable as they celebrated their senior class.
“It’s great. It’s all about celebration and honoring the four seniors – the legacy that they’ve left, the goofiness and the good times,” Wayne said of Senior Night.
“Volleyball is just a small part of it. There’s more to it than that. The girls really like each other. It’s just really fun to give them the night that they deserve.”
And there’s no question that all four Viera seniors have meant “so much” to the program over the past four years.
“It’s every single day,” Wayne said. “There’s a standard in how we practice, what they do in the classroom and they just have tremendous leadership. Our seniors are disciplined in that way. They know the underclassmen are looking up to them and they always make the right choices.
“They just always do the right things. You can be a leader in a bunch of different ways. These girls were all on the team last year when we made that run and now we’re all looking forward to the postseason.”
And just like Holy Trinity, the Hawks are feeling good about themselves as the playoffs approach.
“I’m excited,” Williams said. “I think that once that play-to-stay comes in, where if we lose, we’re done, we’re really going to get competitive and angry with it.”
Carter added: “That’s what our team is great at -- being competitive.”
As they have been throughout their careers at Viera, Carter and Williams were two of the big hitters for the Hawks Thursday night.
Carter finished with a team-high 17 kills while Williams finished with 10, putting her at over 600 for her career. Junior Sophia Jones had 12 kills, sophomore Haley Beigh had eight and junior Kasey Morgan added three. Junior setter Mallory Merz was next on the list with two.
Carter also led the team with three service aces. Morgan had two and Jones and Beigh each had one.
Williams had a big night at the net, leading all players with six blocks. Beigh had four blocks and Jones had two.
Viera had five players with double-digit digs, led by junior Amelia Talbott with 19. Williams had 15, Beigh had 12 and Merz and Carter both had 10. Morgan had seven digs, junior Audia Freckleton had four and McClenahan finished with three. Hubbard and Jones each had two.
Merz led Viera with 44 assists. Williams had four, Talbott two and Freckleton was credited with one assist.
While Wayne tried to downplay winning her 250th match, saying it was “Viera’s 250th win,” it’s clear what the school’s only remaining original coach means to her players, the administration and the community.
“She’s a fantastic coach and she’s a great player as well,” Williams said. “She gets us, she relates to us and she pushes us on the court. We get that motivation from her.”
Wayne was named Hawk of the Day on Friday morning.
“Through all the changes and turnover we witness in education, Coach Wayne has changed the lives of young people in her classroom and young women in the sport of volleyball for nearly 17 years straight at Viera High,” Hawks athletic director Maggie Davis wrote in a text.
“When I look at the dynasty Sarah Wayne has only begun to create, I am so impressed by her dedication to our kids and excited to continue to follow her on her journey. This is only the beginning of a soon-to-be state championship run.
“Proud to have her on our team and looking forward to witnessing many more wins in both of our futures.”