KISSIMMEE — For the first time in more than 30 years, Robinson made it to the big show. But in the end, the hype surrounding the very thing the Knights longed for — a chance to play for a 5A state volleyball championship — got in the way of realizing that dream.
Tuesday at Silver Spurs Arena, a venue that seats more than 10,000, Robinson fell to Belleview 27-25, 24-26, 11-25, 19-25.
It wasn’t just the Rattlers’ talent that ended her team’s season, coach Christen Garcia said. The Knights’ mistakes, caused in part by their lack of confidence at such a high level of competition also contributed.
“At first I was extremely nervous,” libero Emily Draper said, “but after a while I got used to it.”
The Knights eventually settled down but errors, particularly in the third set, haunted them all match. Robinson (14-14) came out strong early and won a close first set. The inexperienced Knights held their own in the second despite losing by two.
But in the third, it all fell apart.
Senior setter Kylee Gorngpratum admitted her team didn’t try hard enough to keep balls in play that they ordinarily would have. With a crowd looking on, the Knights were stiff and, at times, lacked the poise they used three days ago to win a five-set match against Lely in the region final.
“We all wanted it,” middle hitter Lauren Wheatley said, “but we didn’t show it like we should have.”
Early in the match Robinson, a small team known for its defense, did its job against Belleview’s Mikaylah Gillespie, a senior middle blocker who came in with almost twice as many kills as her next-best teammate.
But as the night progressed, Gillespie’s opportunities increased and the Knights were unable to stop her. Gillespie finished with 26 kills and a .306 hitting percentage.
“We’re scrappy, but when you really rely on just your defense a lot it’s really difficult to carry through those long matches,” Garcia said.
Down 15-10 in the fourth set, Robinson fought back with the help of back-to-back service aces from Gorngpratum, and the Knights soon trailed 17-16. A relentless Belleview attack, though, stopped the comeback.
Robinson and its under-the-radar postseason run finished one match short. But Garcia is proud to say the Knights won’t go home empty-handed.
“They’ve laid the groundwork,” she said. “Just to know what it takes, what it’s like in this limelight so that next time there’s a little bit of comfort going into that.”