Thursday night marked the final regular season game for the volleyball careers of Sadie Kluner and Gabbie Atwell, but the two seniors know their time isn’t up just yet.
The Lady Indians (12-12) took Trinity Catholic of Ocala — the No. 4 team in Florida — to the wire, losing by two points in a five-set match (21-25, 25-23, 25-22, 23-25, 13-15) at the TeePee after honoring both teams’ senior players.
“We’ve kind of been in a rut and we’ve been on a losing streak, but tonight we fought,” Atwell said. “They’re a solid team and we know what we need to work on going into playoffs. When we’re in the playoffs, we’ll see some hard teams and this is what’s been preparing us (for those teams).
“We could have easily had an easy schedule and went 25-0, but we are who we are because of this, so when we play teams now it’s going to be a lot easier for us.”
Neither of the two seniors said they were sad about senior night because there is still volleyball left for them to play at Venice, with the district semifinals awaiting them on Tuesday at the TeePee.
After nearly beating one of the best teams in the state, both players have good reason to be excited for what’s to come.
Venice coach Brian Wheatley called his team’s performance one of the best of the season as they battled out of a 1-0 deficit to take the second and third sets. Kluner, who closed out those two sets with powerful spikes, led Venice with 28 kills.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter also had 10 digs as she prepares to play for Anderson University next year.
“I’m really sad to leave here, but I have college volleyball next year so I’m still going to be playing volleyball, and I have Wheatley to thank for that,” Kluner said.
Though the Indians dropped the fourth and fifth sets, they gave the Celtics all they could handle as they came within two points of tying it up at 15 apiece in the final set.
I thought we played really well tonight,” Wheatley said. “That’s a really strong team over there and I thought we played awesome. A little bit of a sour ending right there, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re 0-0.”
Venice wound up playing the fifth hardest schedule in the state this season, according to MaxPreps. And although that tough schedule resulted in the longest losing streak in over a decade, including losing seven of the last eight matches, the players said they’re better off because of it.
Awaiting Venice in the opening round of the district tournament will be the winner of Charlotte vs. Sarasota. If Venice can win that match, it will face either Braden River, Manatee or Palmetto in the district championship.
But the good news for the Indians — ranked 47th in Florida — is that no other team in District 6A-7 is ranked inside the top 125 teams in the state.
“To the outsiders, it might not be the best year because of our record, but it’s about struggle and what we’ve learned,” Wheatley said. “We’re a lot farther ahead of a lot of teams. We had to put them through that struggle, we knew this was coming and we knew that was the way it was gonna be. The year is just beginning as far as we’re concerned.
“All those teams up there on the banner, you don’t remember what their record was, but I do remember how far they went.”