Hawks leave no doubt on way to second district volleyball title in program history

The Viera Hawks pose with the Class 6A, District 12 championship trophy after sweeping past the Melbourne Bulldogs 25-7, 25-6, 25-10 Thursday night. It's the second district title in program history for Viera, the first since 2011.

Hannah Bradford had been waiting four years for this moment.

And once the Viera High senior libero heard who sophomore setter Mallory Merz was teeing up the ball for … she knew that moment was now.

“I think we all kind of had a feeling that we’re going to get this next point and when Mallory said, ‘Mak,’ we knew she was going to put it away for our team,” Bradford said.

Mak Carter delivered, all right.

Moments later, the Hawks were celebrating a blowout win over the Melbourne Bulldogs -- 25-7, 25-6, 25-10 -- in the Class 6A, District 12 championship game. It’s the second district championship in program history

“To be honest, I knew we were at 24 and it was the last point, (but) it didn’t hit me until I turned and we were in the huddle and I looked right in the eyes with Hannah and we just fell apart because we’re so happy,” Carter said.

“It feels so amazing to finally do it after 10 years.”

Viera’s last district championship came in 2011, a point Viera High coach Sarah Wayne made to her team every day at practice, asking her players what they wanted to do, where they wanted to leave their mark.

Thursday night, they gave an emphatic answer to those questions.

Viera swept Heritage in the semifinals and Melbourne in the championship game, allowing double digits in just two of the six sets – and even then, no more than 12 points.

“I wish I knew the secret formula. I’d bottle it up and I’d do it every single time we went on the court,” Wayne said. “I just think it’s so nice for something you’ve been working towards for a very long time, to see it come to fruition.

“I knew we were going to play well. I’m going to be straight up honest, I didn’t think we were going to play that well. Hats off to Melbourne. They’re a really good team. I have been hammering them – stay focused, stay energetic, stay in the moment … expect, expect, expect.

“I just think we served phenomenally and as a team we hit .355. We were so low-error, and when we’re serving like that and we’re hitting like that, I think we can go really far. I’m excited.”

Carter, a junior, led Viera with 15 kills. Freshman Haley Beigh had eight and sophomore Kasey Morgan had seven kills and four aces. Senior Kelly Merz had four aces and seven digs.

Mallory Merz had 31 assists and five digs. Junior Sydney Williams had five digs and a kill. Senior Hannah Carpenter had three digs. Bradford led Viera with 12 digs on the night.

Viera (14-9) is scheduled to host a Class 6, Region 3 quarterfinal on Wednesday night. The brackets have not yet been released.

The Hawks have never won a regional playoff game, so that’s next on their list.

And you can bet seniors Bradford, Kelly Merz, Angie Durso, Carpenter and Melissa Faber; juniors Carter, Williams, Hailey Hubbard and Kendal Mcclenahan; sophomores Mallory Merz, Morgan, Amelia Talbott and Audia Freckleton and freshmen Beigh and Ariana Menyfield will give it everything they have to make that goal a reality.

Thursday night was particularly a big moment for Bradford and Kelly Merz – who have been on Viera’s varsity team since their freshman year – and for anyone who was part of last year’s Hawks team that lost 15-13 in the fifth set of the district championship game and then lost 15-13 in the quarterfinals of the regional tournament.

“Hannah and I both know how it feels to lose when we’re in this position and I think that kind of fuels us and, in return, fuels the rest of the team,” Kelly Merz said. “We know what there is to lose. There’s so much to lose.

“It just feels so good doing this for our senior year, and for Coach Wayne. This is the group of girls I wanted to do this with. I couldn’t be happier.”

Winning the title in front of their family, friends, classmates – and even several members of that 2011 district championship team – certainly made it a night to remember.

Being able to share the moment with her sister, Mallory, made it even more special.

“My sister is my best friend in the entire world,” Kelly Merz said. “This is kind of the first season where we’re actually playing together at the same time. It’s just awesome. She’s my best friend. She’s amazing. She’s everything and more.”

The Hawks have said all along this season would be different. And while they have certainly had their ups and downs throughout the year playing the toughest schedule Wayne could put together, they have proven themselves to be right.

“I think this team is one of the deepest teams we’ve ever had, meaning we have a lot of talent on our team,” Bradford said. “Anyone could fill in at any position and we’d be fine. We play together as a team and we just lift each other up all the time.

“We push each other more in practice than any other team I’ve ever been on.”

Now, the Hawks will get ready for the regional tournament where they can take everything they’ve learned this season and use it to push themselves toward a deep playoff run.

“I tried to give us the toughest schedule that we could,” Wayne said. “Our win-loss record’s not very good, but that’s not what matters. I keep telling the girls it’s all about learning experiences.

“The best thing that happened to us was we lost our first game this year, and then they realized this is what can happen. We can talk all we want, but we need to figure out a way to put it on the court. We had a big turnaround. We played some really tough tournaments. Tough competition just keeps us getting better and better. I’m excited about next week.”

Given the way the Hawks played Thursday night, it’s easy to see why.

“We were just so focused,” Carter said. “We wanted to win so bad. We knew we could win. We put our everything into it. We communicated very well and I think that’s what really led us to victory.”