ENGLEWOOD — Lemon Bay head volleyball coach Pat Auer scrambled over to the scorer’s table to grab the orange and blue ball and bounce it to the server, cognizant of the history that was about to ensue.
Moments later, Manta Rays (6-3) senior outside hitter Caroline Hill slammed her 600th career kill, becoming the second player in school history to reach that plateau.
Auer briefly stopped the match to pose for a picture with Hill and the commemorative volleyball, honoring the respected senior captain whom he’s watched develop into one of the top hitters in the area.
“It was just amazing,” Auer said. “I’ve been with her for four years. It was just something we had to do for her. I originally got (the ball) for our photos, and I thought that it would be something good to give to Caroline.”
“I had no idea,” Hill said about the ball. “I didn’t think they were going to do anything special. It was so sweet, I almost cried. It was amazing.”
That history-making kill proved to be pivotal in the match. It gave Lemon Bay (6-3) a 4-3 lead over the Gulf Coast Heat (1-5) in the second set, a lead they would not surrender.
“She’s just phenomenal,” Auer added. “When she started four years ago, I was the JV coach. When Caroline came in here, I was just like ‘Wow.’ She’s our team leader in digs and kills and she’s just amazing.”
Hill finished the match with nine kills, three aces and seven digs, coming through with a pair of aces in the first set to help Lemon Bay claim the opener 25-13.
Hill’s memorable kill gave her team the lead in the second, but it was the Manta’s junior hitter, Hannah Kryzsiak, who took over the match after that. Kryzsiak finished with a match-high 14 kills and 11 digs, blistering steep top-spin serves to notch four aces.
“She can serve, she hit from the back row, she can dig,” Auer said of Kryzsiak. “We went to UF and we went to a jump school. She used to hardly touch the ball when blocking, and she’s played a lot on the beach and in the sand, and she’s getting up.”
After winning the second set 25-20, Lemon Bay jumped out to a 13-7 lead in the third. However, Gulf Coast found their rhythm and led a comeback to tie the set at 20-20. Auer called a timeout.
“We had some good kills but we kind of relaxed a little bit,” Auer said. “They’re a good, scrappy team. I told our girls not to let them fight. They can hit. (Gulf Coast) can block but I told them to play our game.”
The first rally after of the timeout found the powerful left arm of Kryzsiak, who punished a cross-court kill, to give Lemon Bay the lead right back. After a pair of Heat errors, Kryzsiak put the match away with her 14th and final kill of the night.
“I thought Hannah did amazing, she had a really good night,” said Hill. “We’ve been picking up our covering game and our defense was definitely on-point.”
Senior libero Leanna Kelly finished the night with 10 digs while junior setter Hailey Brown led the Manta Rays with 16 assists.
But Lemon Bay’s second win over the Gulf Coast Heat was all about Hill, who attends classes at Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School in Punta Gorda, but commutes to Englewood to suit up for Lemon Bay.
“I could not be more grateful to have this experience and get close with all these people,” Hill said. “I started out as a ninth grader with all upper-classmen. They took me under their wing and showed me how to be a leader and I just focused all four years to try and embody those characteristics.”