Welcome to this year's Class 3A state volleyball tournament, same as last year's tournament. Clearwater Central Catholic will play Orlando First Academy in one semifinal, while Miami Westminster Christian plays Gainesville St. Francis in the other.
It is the same four schools that played in last year's semifinal. First Academy won its fifth straight championship while the Marauders were eliminated in the semifinals by St. Francis.
While CCC lost key players from last year's team, this year's version is just as good. A 25-5 regular season, coupled with plenty of experienced returners, has the Marauders believing they can win the school's first state title since 1985.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity," junior outside hitter Shea Hamilton said. "We're hoping to do better than we did last year. It's not easy to get there."
Hamilton was a major contributor last season and has played even better this year. She averages 3.3 kills per game and has a team-high 262 kills. Hamilton also has 3.7 digs per game, second only to libero Majo Amundaray.
Joining Hamilton is middle hitter Katie Moore. At 6-foot-3, Moore is a blocking and spiking threat who averages three kills and one block per game. She leads the team with 99 overall blocks.
While those two get much of the attention, there are plenty of other experienced players at coach Stephen Shepherd's disposal.
Junior outside hitter Rachel Odell, junior hitter Sara Brown and senior hitter Jenna Dykstra, a Countryside transfer, have at least 150 kills for the season. Senior Megan Kovach (400 assists) and junior Ashley Albers (426 assists) have been setting up their talented teammates all season.
The result has been a team that swings hard and hopes for the best.
"I trust all those kids," Shepherd said. "With the schedule we've played, the competition, I know they are ready. I have total confidence in them. We're going to play to win. I hate the mentality of playing it safe and hope they make some errors."
CCC has not played First Academy this season. The Royals (19-9) are coming off a five-game win over Tampa Prep in the region final. Playing against a state-ranked team and a defending champion is not surprising to Shepherd.
"If you look at our classification, the top four teams in our class are ranked in the top eight teams in the state," he said. "We knew that once we got to a regional final or beyond it was going to be tough. We just have to find a way to string three quality matches together.
"From here on out, there's no such thing as easy. But you kind of want to earn it."