Both teams felt like they made progress toward their ultimate goals.
Menendez, which wants be able to play with the top teams in the state, won a game against 2015 state semifinalist Ponte Vedra. And the Sharks, who want to return to the state championships, closed out strong Thursday to beat the Falcons in four games and win the District 5-6A championship at the Falcons’ gym.
The Sharks (17-9) will host a regional quarterfinal on Tuesday after defeating Menendez 25-15, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21.
The district runner-up Falcons (8-6) will travel to either Belleview or Alachua Santa Fe on Tuesday for their first playoff match in five years.
“We haven’t taken a game from them all season, and I don’t think we did last year either,” said Falcons second-year coach Tori Johnson, who was a player on the team the last time Menendez advanced to the playoffs in 2011.
“So to win one was definitely a confidence builder.”
But the Falcons couldn’t keep up with the Sharks’ 53 kills, which came from all directions. Outside hitter Mackenzie Morris led Ponte Vedra with 18 kills, and middle blockers Ava Rambo and Aya Kusumoto added nine kills apiece.
“We saw some offense from everybody, which is good,” Ponte Vedra coach Robin Mignerey said. “Our middles really tallied a lot of kills. I think we’re starting to click.”
The Falcons scored four points in a row to pull within 17-16 in the third game, but the Sharks ended it with a 7-1 run. They also closed out the final game after Menendez pulled to within 22-21.
“I think we started passing better, making it easier on our setter (Savannah Fowler),” Morris said. “She could split the block, move them to the other side. Our middles connected really good with our setters tonight.”
Fowler had 41 assists for the Sharks. Eve Beech led the defense with 24 digs.
Marley Banton had 25 digs and seven kills for the Falcons. Emily Ward had 11 digs, nine kills, one block and one ace, and Eden Edgell chipped in with six kills and eight digs. Caitlin Wilson had 27 assists.
“We were motivated after winning that game,” Ward said. “It was like, ‘we can beat them now. Let’s go, we can beat them again.’”
“We’ll see them again,” Johnson said. “They’re a good team. They’re very scrappy. They go for everything. But we’ve been building all season long. Every game was close tonight. It shows how much we’ve grown.”