Hawks make history again, sweeping Winter Springs for first regional playoff victory

Viera High's Sydney Williams (No. 12) and her teammates react after Williams delivered one her team-high 17 kills in a Class 6A regional quarterfinal game against Winter Springs. The Hawks won 3-0 to advance to the semifinals. It was their first regional playoff win in program history.

The bigger the moment, the better they play.

That was the case again for the Viera Hawks Wednesday night as they made volleyball program history again, sweeping past the visiting Winter Springs Bears 3-0 in a Class 6A regional quarterfinal.

“That’s probably the best we’ve ever played,” Viera sophomore setter Mallory Merz sad. “We’re finally just starting to all click together and playing as a team.”

Wednesday’s 25-18, 27-25, 25-12 over Winter Springs marked the first victory in a regional playoff game in Viera volleyball history and came on the heels of the team’s second district championship – the first in 10 years.

Viera (15-9), which is ranked third in Region 3, is scheduled to play on the road at No. 2 Lakeland (22-6) next Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Needless to say, the Hawks will be motivated to keep their historical run going, just like they were amped up to play against Winter Springs.

“We knew that we made history with districts, coming in 10 years later and winning,” junior Sydney Williams said. “We knew that we’d made it this far and we want to push ahead to regionals and make our statement that this is a different team here at Viera.”

Williams led the Hawks with 17 kills Wednesday night. Junior Mak Carter had 14 kills, two blocks and an ace. Mallory Merz had 35 assists and 14 digs. Senior libero Hannah Bradford had 15 digs and six assists. Senior Kelly Merz had three aces to give her a team-high 60 on the season.

“We just came out and we were ready,” Carter said. “We wanted this so bad. Just like our last game, we came out with the intent to win and we worked hard. On the court, we communicated, we played defense well -- blocked well – everything. The whole package.”

With Carter and Williams playing at the top of their game, along with freshman Haley Beigh and sophomore Kasey Morgan swinging on the outside, the Hawks offered a number of challenges the Bears (14-14) ultimately could not answer.

“When Sydney and I are on, the other team has no idea where the ball is going to go to,” Carter said. “Mallory played amazing tonight. Whenever we’re in the front row, we always have a blast because the team never knows what’s going to happen.

“… We have a lot of great hitters. And Hannah Bradford in the back row helps us so much.”

Although the Hawks wound up sweeping Winter Springs, the road to victory certainly had its challenges.

Viera got off to a fast start, taking an 8-1 lead in the first set before the Bears started making a comeback. And while Viera would win the set 25-18, it could definitely be said the Bears had picked up some momentum.

That seemed to carry over for Winter Springs, which jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the second set with the help of some strong serving by senior Abby Denton.

It was 16-12 Bears when the Hawks mounted a big comeback, eventually tying the score at 19-19 and then 20-20, setting up a dramatic finish.

Viera would lead 22-20, but Winter Springs turned it around, scoring the next four points to set up a pair of set points at 24-22. The Hawks would tie it back up at 24-24, only to see a serve go long and give the Bears another chance to close out the set leading 25-24.

But senior Angie Durso came up big, tying the set with a kill. Beigh then ripped a ball that Winter Springs couldn’t dig and Carter finished off the set by drilling the ball to an open spot on the floor to put the Hawks up 2-0.

“Once we all start coming together and we keep getting more kills, it just lights a fire between all of us,” Merz said.

The third set was the least dramatic of the three as Viera won 11 straight pinand closed things out.

“We played as a unit,” Williams said. “We play really good individually, but it all comes together when we’re all in synch and we’re moving, like a dance.”

Whereas Carter had the game-ending kill in the district final against Melbourne, this time it was Williams’ turn to deliver on match point … and that’s just what she did.

“That’s always scary, hitting it like that, because you never know if it’s going to go in the net, or over,” Williams said. “But I felt pretty confident and I knew I wanted to make the last point.”

Told about Mallory Merz’s comment that Wednesday night was the best the Hawks have ever played, coach Sarah Wayne did not disagree.

“Pretty close, yeah,” Wayne said. “We had some moments. Game two, we didn’t pass well. But the fact that you can come around and you can pull that out … the best we’ve ever played doesn’t have to be kills and aces. It can be that mental side. I think that’s what we did really well.

“… We have great senior leadership and our underclassmen, they shine because the seniors have been around and they say, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ I think that gives them a boost of confidence.

“We’re just clicking and what a great time to do that.”

What is making the Hawks so dangerous is that they’re getting strong performances all around in games and in practices – from seniors like Bradford; Kelly Merz; Durso; Hannah Carpenter and Melissa Faber to juniors Carter; Williams; Hailey Hubbard and Kendal Mcclenahan; sophomores Mallory Merz; Morgan; Amelia Talbott and Audia Freckleton and freshmen Beigh and Ariana Menyfield.

“We have so much confidence,” Carter said. “I think that’s also what’s leading us to win. We have a lot of confidence in our team, in ourselves. We have trust in each other. It’s leading us to victory.”

After each practice this season, Wayne pointed to the banner hanging in the Viera gym that showed one district championship and asked her players what they wanted to do.

Well, they’re making history.

“We worked our butts off and this is what we wanted to do,” Mallory Merz said.

If the Hawks keep playing like this, who knows how far they will go.

“I just know that if we play like that … Kasey Morgan just gave us phenomenal serves (tonight),” Wayne said. “It may not show up on the stat sheet with aces, but they were out of system all of the time. Mak does really well, which opens up the floor. Syd, she had no block a bunch of times.

“They’re doing the little things that matter, that we see as a coaching staff. We can go really far.”