BRADEN RIVER — Thoughts of the Braden River High volleyball team reaching the regional finals simply were non-existent four years ago.
In fact, volleyball as a whole was pretty much an afterthought.
In their first year, the Lady Pirates didn’t win a single match. So it’s not all that surprising that all seniors Regina Aluise, Lauren Powell, Rachel Hubbard and Allison Martin wanted when they first stepped onto the court was a winning record.
But the program quickly progressed, and with each passing season, the Lady Pirates continued to raise their expectations.
The seniors followed the program’s first winning record with back-to-back trips to the district championship, where they finished as the district runner-up both times, capturing the school’s first-ever regional quarterfinal victory last fall.
This season, the girls — along with first-year head coach Steven Haugh — started to believe anything was possible. And on Nov. 14 when Braden River made its first appearance in the regional finals, it was crystal clear that volleyball has arrived at Braden River.
“This is something we’ve never done before,” Powell said. “When we first started, we just wanted a winning record, and now to actually make it to the regional finals, it’s something none of us ever thought of. It was totally out of our league, we thought, but to see us grow and come together as a team was amazing.”
The Lady Pirates entered last Saturday’s Class 4-Region 3 final as the underdog, facing a Fort Myers team that had been there before. Braden River found itself in a hole early and struggled to contend with Fort Myer’s size, athleticism and experience throughout the match, as the Green Wave defeated the Lady Pirates 25-13, 25-7 and 25-22.
Braden River took a 9-8 lead in Game 1 before Fort Myers served up nine straight points to take a 17-9 advantage. The Green Wave followed up with a dominant performance in Game 2.
The Lady Pirates made things interesting in Game 3, matching the Green Wave point for point and taking a 17-15 lead at one point before Fort Myers scored the game’s final four points to close out the match.
“They played with a lot of heart,” Haugh said. “They worked as hard as they could that last game just to see if we could make it interesting at least, but they fell a little short.”
Playing their toughest schedule to date, the Lady Pirates (23-7) set a school record for the most wins in a single season. They defeated St. Pete Lakewood twice during the regular season to capture the District 10 championship and again in the regional semifinals Nov. 10, earning a spot in the regional finals.
And although the seniors, who were one win shy of advancing to the state finals, weren’t quite ready to see their season end, the disappointment of the Lady Pirates’ loss was in some ways overshadowed by the legacy they were prepared to leave behind.
“I’m so proud of everyone. We worked so hard for this, and of course it’s sad to lose, but this is really amazing,” Powell said. “This is just going to continue to grow. I have no doubt.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].