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NEW PORT RICHEY — When Linda McQuade came out of retirement to start Fivay’s volleyball program from scratch, she was probably hoping to experience more nights like Tuesday night’s Class 5A region semifinal.
A charged playoff atmosphere. A dramatic rally against a rival. And another trip to the elite eight.
McQuade’s Falcons overcame a slow start to win the last three games and topple host Ridgewood 19-25, 21-25, 25-14, 28-26, 15-12.
Fivay (24-6) advances to play at Bartram Trail in Saturday’s Class 5A region final — the first elite eight appearance in the Falcons’ history.
It didn’t look like Fivay could send McQuade back to within a game of the final four early. Ridgewood (22-7) trailed for only two points in the first game and used four of Mary Kujak’s 11 blocks to swipe the second, too.
“I told them not to quit, and they needed to reach inside and find where the Falcons lived,” McQuade said. “That’s what they had to do.”
And that’s what they did to start the third. Fivay jumped ahead 11-6 behind aces from Ashliegh and Briannah Nemetz. Ridgewood errors aided the comeback, and Briannah Nemetz ripped off five of her game-high 21 kills in a pivotal run to help the Falcons get back in the match.
“We had to take the edge right there,” McQuade said.
Ridgewood quickly regained advantage in the fourth, thanks to one of Lauren Gonzalez’s team-high 12 kills and strong defense from Brianna Berchiolly (20 digs) and Taylor Vanicek (31 digs).
But Fivay battled back thanks to Rams mistakes and timely aces from Courtney Costa and Jackie Cosh.
Fivay trailed for almost all of the fifth game, too. Ridgewood took advantage of at least eight Falcon errors to jump ahead 10-7. Fivay caught a break with a miraculous dig that seized momentum and tied the score at 11. An ace from Toni Imbimbo and back-to-back kills from Briannah Nemetz ended the Rams’ season.
Briannah Nemetz also contributed 24 digs for Fivay, and Alli Hudson added seven kills. Victoria Schaefer led the Rams with 18 assists and chipped in six kills.