The Venice volleyball team took the court at the TeePee on Tuesday night in front of a full house, and it was readily apparent the match was special.
Playing for a regional championship against Palm Harbor University, the Indians cheers were a little bit louder and their high-fives a little bit stronger as they knew what was at stake.
Fighting through the emotions, Venice fought back Palm Harbor in three straight sets (25-17, 25-20, 25-17) to win its 12th regional championship.
“There was definitely a crazy vibe tonight,” senior middle hitter Aja Jones said. “We all wanted this so bad and we were willing to do whatever we needed to do to get it. We were all super excited and there was great energy out on the court.”
The win means that Venice’s season stays alive, as the Indians will travel to play the winner of St. Thomas Aquinas and Mater Academy Charter for the state semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
Though Venice swept Palm Harbor, it wasn’t easy for the Indians.
The Hurricanes kept it close with the Indians throughout the first set, tying the set at 10-10 at one point. However, Jones provided a spark for Venice. The senior unleashed devastating kills on the Hurricanes, knocking over multiple players on the night with the power of her shot.
“Aja turned out big tonight,” Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. “We’ve been working on her blocking and she had, I think, eight or nine blocks tonight, which is a season-high from her. They didn’t really have an answer for any of our hitters.”
Along with Jones, outside hitter Paradise Gibson overwhelmed Palm Harbor to take the first set. By the end of the night, both Jones and Gibson finished with a team-high 14 kills.
Venice got out to a quick 11-3 lead in the second set and looked well on its way to an early night, but then each side got a little sloppy. Shots into the net, out of bounds, missed digs and penalties hurt both teams in the second set, but once again Jones rallied her team with two kills and a block over the final four points of the set.
Leading 2-0, everyone got involved for Venice in the final set.
Kills from Gibson, Jones, Sadie Kluner and Carley Faulkner kept the Hurricanes at bay just long enough for the Indians to pull away.
“You know, we had our best defensive and blocking night, probably of the year,” Wheatley said. “We’ve really been concentrating hard on that the last couple of weeks and it definitely showed tonight.
“They’re a strong defensive team over there, and you gotta hand it to them because they kept on them, but it was good to see us finish there.”