Lily Kinder and Savannah Fowler are a long way from motherhood. That has not stopped the Ponte Vedra volleyball team from adopting the two seniors for the role that is many years away.
Wednesday night, the Sharks honored their “senior mommies” with a 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 25-16 win over Bartram Trail on senior night. Kinder and Fowler are both two-year members of the varsity.
“I’m really proud of everyone for pulling it through when we’re down so many points in the third game and coming out top on senior night,” Kinder said afterward.
Kinder and Jordan Gregg combined to block Bartram Trail’s Taylor Smith to hand the home team a Game 1 win. Kinder’s kill allowed the Sharks to win Game 2, a late-game comeback that was possible because Fowler’s serving forced the Bears out of system.
Bartram Trail led 22-20, but the Sharks (15-3) went on to win five of the next six points. Suddenly a team that swept all three of its matches in the St. Johns River Athletic Conference last weekend was down two games to a Ponte Vedra squad that has won six straight matches.
“We played so well against Fleming Island on Saturday,” said Bartram Trail volleyball coach Lainey Kekic. “We were in the zone and everything was going our way. We played in spurts tonight. That third set and the second set showed that. We have to handle pressure a little better.”
Bartram Trail’s advantage disappeared as the Bears (16-5) hit an attack long, couldn’t get in system and then took four touches on a pass.
Wednesday’s win means Ponte Vedra clinches the St. Johns County championship. The Sharks are 4-0 against county opponents. Though they have not played Creekside or St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra has victories over Nease and Menendez — both of whom have beaten St. Augustine. Meanwhile, Bartram Trail’s two victories over Creekside means the Sharks are on top of the local volleyball food chain.
Fowler led all players with 44 assists and added 11 digs to produce a double-double in her last regular season match at home. In the two-plus years she has been on Ponte Vedra’s varsity, the Sharks are 18-1 on their home court.
Should the Sharks play another match at home, it would mean they have won next week’s District 5-6A tournament. Ponte Vedra has won six straight district titles and 52 straight district matches. When asked what makes the 2017 squad any different from its predecessors, Fowler said the number of girls on the team makes every practice competitive. As a result, the fight for playing time makes the Sharks sharper when the matches do arrive.
“We brought up our attitudes and came together as a team,” explained Kinder, an Anderson University commitment.
Being the county champions is not as official as being a tournament, district, regional, or even, state champion. Yet, in some ways it carries more weight, because of the friendships that many of the girls have developed playing with and against each over the years.
Wednesday was no exception. Bartram Trail setter Katie Demo and Ponte Vedra middle Paige Johnson — both of who wore No. 14 — shared a laugh with each other moments after the match. Johnson used her hard and flat attacks to produce 14 kills for the match. She shared the team lead with middle Gabby Keller.
“We know they are good and the girls understood that,” Kekic said. “I was hoping that would feed our energy. …We didn’t quite bounce back tonight. (Ponte Vedra) is a great team. We didn’t play bad. We played well, but, Ponte Vedra is a great team.”
The Sharks will close the regular season this weekend in Miami at the Smoothie King Invitational. Reigning Class 5A champions Miami Westminster Academy is one of the hosts and a potential opponent for the 15-3 Sharks.