ST. PETERSBURG — Senior Lauren Powell remembers a time when the Braden River High volleyball team was searching for nothing more than a winning record.
At the time, thoughts of a district title were the furthest thing from the Lady Pirates’ minds. After all, the program didn’t win a game until its second season in 2006.
But what a difference a few years can make.
Since then, the Lady Pirates have been a fixture in the district finals, having finished as the district runner-up each of the past two seasons. With its third trip to the regional playoffs already wrapped up, Braden River entered last Thursday’s Class 4A-District 10 final at St. Pete Lakewood with one mission left to complete — to capture its first-ever district title.
After falling behind 1-0, the Lady Pirates bounced back, outlasting the Lady Spartans and continuing their district dominance with a 3-2 victory to clinch the team’s first district championship.
“This was a big goal of ours this season,” Powell said of winning a district title. “We’ve been working hard for this all year with the hard practices and the stress. … This is what we deserve, and it feels so great to finally have it.”
Braden River (21-6) fell to St. Pete Lakewood 25-17 in Game 1 before winning Games 2 (25-17) and 3 (25-16). Lakewood (14-9) rallied back with a 25-19 win in Game 4 to set up a Game 5 finale.
The Lady Pirates took an early 3-0 lead in Game 5 and never looked back, cruising to an easy 15-5 win.
“Last time they beat us the first game too, but one game can’t make a match, Powell said. “We just tried to focus on every point and fought (our way) back.”
Powell led the way for Braden River’s offensive attack, finishing with nine kills. Sophomore Brittany Jaco finished with eight kills, followed by senior Allison Martin with seven. Junior Kaleigh Jaco had six and freshman Courtney McDevitt added five. Senior setter Regina Aluise dished out 35 assists for the Lady Pirates.
The Lady Spartans — winners of four consecutive district titles while competing in Class 5A — were powered by sophomore Berkley Whaley who finished with 27 kills on the night.
“I totally didn’t expect it to be easy coming into their house, but they did a nice job,” Braden River coach Steven Haugh said. “They played very tough and worked hard for every point. The seniors wanted this more than anything.”
Following their monumental win, the Lady Pirates celebrated their championship with family and a group of classmates who made the trip across the Sunshine Skyway to cheer on the girls.
Braden River may have cleared a major hurdle, accomplishing its biggest goal, but the season is far from over. The team returned to action Nov. 4, facing Ruskin Lennard — the runner-up in district 9 — in the regional quarterfinals.
“That first season we were just trying to have a winning record and now we’ve made a name for ourselves,” Powell said. “We’ve established Braden River and now people fear the name I guess you could say.
“I think we can go as far as we want to go,” she added. “This team has a really big heart.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].