Though the Venice Indians boys volleyball team lost a four set district match to the Tampa Bay HEAT on Tuesday night at the TeePee, no one in the boisterous crowd went home feeling cheated.
For nearly two hours, the Indians fought, dove and scrapped their way through four close sets – each of which could have gone either way. The 3-1 loss was decided by set scores of 21-25, 21-25, 25-23 and 24-26.
The loss drops the Venice season record to 8-2, while its District 1A-3 mark slipped to 3-2.
“This is what volleyball is all about. It usually comes down to who makes the fewest mistakes,” said Indians coach Brian Wheatley. “We’re newbies on the court and we’re making newbie errors. A lot of the kids on the teams we’re playing have been playing for 10 years.
“Obviously, it’s discouraging, because we always want to win. We take two steps forward and one back. But that’s to be expected.”
In just its second season — and first playing a district schedule — Venice’s primary goal is to finish the season among the top four in its nine-team district. In boys volleyball, only four teams qualify for the district tournament, and only the district champion advances regionals.
Though Venice never led in game one, it was a close battle.
After tying the game at 7-7, the HEAT reeled off a 10-2 run to lead 17-9. Venice fought its way back to 24-21, but never closer.
Perhaps the worst news to come from the opener, was the loss of two players. After the opening game ended, Brett Keyso and Jack Kimball returned from the locker room with iced ankles. Neither played the final three sets.
Venice had the edge for most of the second set and built up a six-point lead (17-11). Josh Kinker helped power the way as he led the team in kills.
Unfortunately for Venice, the 17-11 lead quickly evaporated. After a 7-1 HEAT run, the game was tied at 18-18. The Indians lost the lead for good one point later.
“We pride ourselves on defense and passing, and we didn’t have it tonight,” said Kinker. “Our defense didn’t really kick in until the third or fourth game. But it’s pretty hard to win when you’re not passing and your defense isn’t there.”
The Indians survived 10 ties in Game 3 before pulling it out. Phil Price and Kinker had some timely kills with the aid of setter Caleb Kwekel’s passing. But the final blow was a well-placed lob to open court by Park Dietz on the final point.
The highlight of the final game was a diving dig by Luke Wheatley. After the ball was sent to the rafters, Wheatley looked like he was following the action in a Ruth Goldberg machine. As the ball changed directions multiple times, Wheatley followed its every move. When it finally came down, he made the dive that eventually led to a 16-11 lead.
The advantage was soon erased as the HEAT fought back to tie the game at 23-23. A Venice net violation ended the match.