Down two sets to none in a road match against Naples Lely, Robinson came from behind to win Saturday’s region final 3-2 and advance to its first state semifinal since 1978.
And though every team that travels to Kissimmee this week to compete in the state volleyball tournament wants to go home with the top prize, Knights coach Christen Garcia said her team has already done what it set out to do.
Two years ago, Garcia began coaching a team that had just recently won the district but had fallen in region semifinals. Each year she challenged her girls to make it one step further.
And so far, they have.
Last season, the Knights (14-13) made the region final before losing 3-0 to Merritt Island. By beating Lely, Robinson did what it couldn’t a year ago: take home a region title.
“As a team we just look at it as, we don’t have anything to lose at this point,” setter Kylee Gorngpratum said of Robinson’s 5A state semifinal against Belleview. “We just have everything to gain and everything to fight for.”
Garcia said she purposefully scheduled tough tournament play during the regular season to give her team a taste of how it should compete in the postseason. The Knights lost five matches in the Berkeley Premier tournament, but what they gained, she hopes, means so much more than their record.
“I played those knowing we might be able to pull a win off here and there,” Garcia said, “but we’d rather take the losses and get better competition and experience.”
Steinbrenner still high from sweep of Durant
A win against Lake Nona in Saturday’s 7A region final sealed the first state semifinal appearance in Steinbrenner history.
Still, coach Laura Stegenga admits her team’s high point of the season happened four days earlier, when the Warriors beat rival Durant 3-0, handing the Cougars their only loss of the regular season.
“After playing them and seeing the level of volleyball going on in the gym that day, the finals didn’t even feel as epic as that,” Stegenga said.
It’s the motivation from that win that will carry her team through its state playoff run — starting with a state semifinal against Gulf Coast on Thursday.
“The reason I coach is for moments like that,” Stegenga said of the win against Durant. “It brought tears and chills and excitement to move forward.”
Berkeley’s experience could be a blessing
Having played for and lost the state championship a year ago, Berkeley Prep (22-7) knows what it’s like to be involved in a high-profile match with everything on the line.
Coach John Coup is convinced the Bucs’ appearance in the final match of the state playoffs put a target on his team’s back for this season.
“We snuck up on nobody,” he said.
But today when it takes on Lake Highland Prep in the 4A semifinals, that experience might be a benefit.
Berkeley Prep, which will be hunting for its 16th state title, beat Lake Highland Prep 3-1 when the teams met Aug. 30.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Coup said. “The one thing I think is tough from their standpoint is none of those kids having played in a final four. That’s a big advantage to us.”