Nicole Wittmer couldn’t help but walk off the practice court smiling.
It was as if she had spent the past two weeks re-living a dream. The Sarasota Christian School senior middle hitter was preparing to lead her team into the Class 2A-Region 3 finals for the first time in school history.
“It’s really awesome,” Wittmer says. “First, we made history winning the district title and now we’re going to the regional finals. It’s really exciting. We knew we could do this.”
The Lady Blazers, who began their historic run with their first district championship last month, were preparing to face defending state champion Lake Worth Christian — a tall order for a team that has been steadily developing its program for the past three years.
But after defeating Southwest Florida Christian Academy in five games in the regional semifinals Nov. 6, to reach the regional finals, Wittmer and the rest of the Lady Blazers, who had fallen in the regional semifinals each of the past two seasons, felt anything was possible.
After all, Sarasota Christian had been up two games in the regional semifinals only to have to hold off Southwest Florida Christian Academy down the stretch.
“We just kept reminding ourselves this has never been done before, so let’s make history,” Wittmer says. “It meant a lot. We really want to finish strong.
“Coach (Mitch) King has built the program a lot,” Wittmer says. “We all have grown more skilled in the game. He works really well with us and is a huge part of why we are here.”
Wittmer and the rest of the Lady Blazers knew what they were up against when they took their home court in the regional finals Nov. 10. The two teams had never met on the court before, but Sarasota Christian coach Mitch King knew about Lake Worth Christian’s storied program — one that had advanced to the state finals each of the past five seasons.
“(Lake Worth Christian) is much taller and more experienced,” King says before the match. “All of the other teams have been before. They are used to it.
“This is where my goal was,” King says of reaching the regional finals. “I definitely thought we could do it. This year we’re a much deeper team. It’s a really athletic group. They all push each other and pull each other along.”
Feeding off of the crowd’s enthusiasm, Sarasota Christian hung with Lake Worth Christian early on, before falling to the Lady Defenders 25-22, 25-27, 25-18, 25-13.
With the loss, the Lady Blazers saw their historic season come to a close. It was the final match in a Sarasota Christian volleyball uniform for Wittmer and fellow seniors Janie Weaver and Paige Troyer.
It may not have been the ending the Lady Blazers had been hoping for, but Wittmer, Weaver and Troyer can walk away knowing they helped lay the foundation for the program’s future.
“This has been the best year,” Wittmer says. “The closeness of the team is really crazy. I’m so close to the entire team, which made it so fun. The fact that we (were) successful this year made it a lot of fun.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].