Region champs! Next stop for Viera volleyball … final four

The Viera Hawks won the Class 6A, Region 3 championship by going on the road and defeating top-seeded New Smyrna Beach 25-21, 26-24, 18-25, 22-25, 15-7. It's the first regional title in Viera volleyball history and puts the Hawks into the state final four.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH – Somewhere, in the midst of the hugs, the screams of joy and, yes, maybe even a few tears, the reality of what the Viera High volleyball team had just accomplished was starting to sink in.

“I think it has,” junior Mak Carter said. “Seeing everyone so happy, and almost everyone shed a tear, too. It just feels amazing. We finally did it.

“And it was us.”

The Viera Hawks are heading to the final four.

Let’s say that one more time, so it can really sink in … The Viera Hawks are heading to the final four.

Leading top-seeded New Smyrna Beach 2-0 in the Class 6A, Region 3 final, the No. 3 Hawks saw the Barracudas come storming back to tie things up and send the match to a deciding fifth set.

And the fifth set belonged to Viera.

After winning just the second district title in program history … then the first regional quarterfinal and semifinal matches in program history … Viera is now a regional champion for the first time ever after beating the Barracudas 25-21, 26-24, 18-25, 22-25, 15-7.

“Honestly, I think it hit me when I was hugging Kelly (Merz) because we’ve been on this team for four years,” senior Hannah Bradford said. “But … I don’t think I’ve fully processed it.”

Under FHSAA guidelines, seeding is re-done for the final four, which means Viera (17-9) will draw No. 1 Ponte Vedra (28-1) – the No. 1 ranked team overall in Florida and the No. 3 ranked team in the nation according to MaxPreps – in the state semifinals.

That match is scheduled to take place next Saturday at 2 p.m. at Ponte Vedra.

It will be a daunting task for sure. But this year’s Hawks have already overcome so much this season, winning at Lakeland in five sets after trailing 2-1 in the semifinals and then beating the Barracudas in their own gym, once again in a match that went the distance.

“I think it makes it more gratifying that we went to five sets,” Bradford said. “Obviously, we would have liked to win in three, but I think it just shows the adversity that this team has been able (to overcome).”

And once again, it took a complete team effort to do it.

Carter led Viera with 20 kills to go with two aces, six digs and four total blocks.

Junior Sydney Williams had 16 kills – some at very big moments to help snap New Smyrna Beach’s momentum – along with 17 digs and two total blocks.

And how about Haley Beigh? Playing in the biggest match of her young high school career, the freshman had 14 kills, three digs and two total blocks.

Sophomore setter Mallory Merz had 49 assists, 14 digs, one ace and two total blocks.

Bradford also had a big afternoon. The senior libero led the Hawks with 25 digs. She also had two assists and an ace.

Senior Kelly Merz had one kill and one ace. Sophomore Kasey Morgan had two kills, two aces and five digs. Senior Angie Durso, one of Viera’s emotional leaders, had one kill, two digs and three total blocks. Senior Hannah Carpenter had nine digs.

“We passed really well,” Viera coach Sarah Wayne said. “And when we passed really well, we had a balanced offense. Syd on the outside, Mak in the middle and Haley on the right … we just made them guess.

I thought our defense did really well tonight as well. When they’re a really hard-hitting team (like New Smyrna Beach), we just kept digging one more ball, digging one more ball. I’m proud of them.”

The afternoon couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Viera, which went on a run after the score was tied at 13-13 and eventually closed things out at 25-21 on a kill by Beigh.

The second set was tight and somewhat controversial. New Smyrna Beach had two set points at 24-22. The Hawks erased the first one and then tied it at 24-24 after the officials got together and reversed a call that would have given the Barracudas the set, ruling the ball had been touched by New Smyrna Beach before going out of bounds.

Tied at 24-24, Viera won the next two points on a block by Carter and a kill attempt by the Barracudas that went long and the Hawks were up 2-0.

New Smyrna Beach (20-7), which was ranked No. 7 in 6A by MaxPreps and backed by a loud student cheering section, made a big comeback. The Barracudas took the third set, then rallied in the fourth set after Viera took an early lead. Tied at 22-22, the Barracudas scored the final three points to force a fifth and deciding set.

“I just said, ‘Stay calm,’” Wayne said. “When we relax, we tend to play a little bit more error free and just believe. I think I must have said ‘believe’ at least 12 times in that huddle in that 30 seconds – believe they can do it, believe they’re a good team, play Hawk strong … and they did it.”

Bradford said the Hawks simply had a mindset that they were going to have to fight for their season and fight for the seniors.

“We wanted it so bad and that was the outcome,” she said.

And as Bradford alluded to earlier, it seemed almost fitting that it took five sets.

“We were willing to work for it, and going five sets with a team as good as New Smyrna was a perfect situation for us,” Carter said. “It really proves that this Viera, this new Viera, can do it.

“We can push through.”

It’s been quite a season for the Hawks, who opened the year with high expectations only to lose to Holy Trinity in five sets.

But if anything, that’s the match that may have turned the season around for Viera.

“I think after our loss to Holy Trinity in the beginning of the season, we had a whole new mindset for what we were going to do and how we needed to work in an out of practice,” Bradford said.

“We know we have some amazing players on this team, some amazing talent. We know we need to just need to use that up for as long as we can.”

Carter, who revealed she and her family will be moving to Tennessee, praised the seniors for all they have meant to the Viera program. The junior was supposed to leave on Wednesday, but those plans are on hold for now.

“I’m not leaving until we’re done,” she said with a smile.

While Saturday was obviously a big moment for the players who took the court, it was also a big day for the players who have also played a big role in helping the Viera volleyball program start breathing rarified air: senior Melissa Faber, juniors Hailey Hubbard and Kendal Mcclenahan; sophomores Amelia Talbott and Audia Freckleton and freshman Ariana Menyfield.

Because this is a Viera team in the truest sense of the word.

It’s a team that has come together and keeps it together when things don’t go right.

“Volleyball is the ultimate team sport,” Wayne said. “One person can’t do anything. You have to rely on everybody and everybody’s position. I think that’s one thing that separates us from a lot of teams is we don’t get too emotional on the court.

“And when we do, the message is just hey, snap back out of it. We do a really good job of not staying in it for too long. I steal the quote from (the TV show) ‘Ted Lasso.’ I say, ‘Be goldfish.’ They have the shortest memory. If something goes wrong, let it go and do the next point.”

Wayne, now in her 16th year as head coach of the Hawks, was asked if the moment had hit her yet.

“I’m still in shock,” she said. “I don’t think it’s set in yet.”