ST. PETERSBURG —The message was written clearly on the wall of Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg: “Best School in the Universe.”
Sure, the Lakewood volleyball team won four consecutive district titles. And yes, the Lady Spartans have one of the most highly regarded volleyball players in the nation in sophomore Berkley Whaley.
But even though the message was painted across the side of the school and on the district championship banners displayed throughout the gym, Braden River wasn’t buying into it.
The two teams had never met on the court before, but on Sept. 9 the Lady Pirates came out with something to prove.
“We wanted to make a statement for ourselves,” senior Lauren Powell said. “We didn’t know them and they didn’t know us.”
After falling behind after a 16-25 loss in game one, the Lady Pirates rallied together winning their final three games 29-27, 25-18 and 25-18 to sail past the Lady Spartans on their way to their first district win of the season.
“Now, they know Braden River, and they know how we can play, so I think it was really important for us to step it up and show them,” Powell said.
Braden River got off to a shaky start in game one as the Lady Pirates struggled to communicate offensively while also trying to keep Whaley from dominating the court at the same time.
But, the Lady Pirates never let their confidence wane. Between games, the team regrouped and began playing the way they know how to play, which is together.
“The first game, I think we came in a little nervous,” coach Steven Haugh said. “We didn’t know what to expect. We knew they had one of the best players in the state of Florida, and she showed it and she kind of dominated the first game.
“After that, I think they settled down,” he added. “We talked about just keeping our confidence, knowing that we’re a better team overall, and they slowly got better and better each game and they really did a nice job by the third game.”
Powell led the way for the Lady Pirates with 12 kills, 10 digs and 10 service points. Sophomore Brittany Jaco and senior Allison Martin had seven kills apiece, and senior Regina Aluise had 34 set assists.
“When we struggled we had to play together more, and we had to rely on each other,” Powell said. “So whenever we’re playing really well it just comes natural, and its like we’ve been playing together forever.”
The Lady Pirates are off to an impressive start this season, having won three of their first four games with their lone loss coming at the hands of state volleyball powerhouse Venice.
Braden River is in the midst of its toughest schedule in school history — one that has forced the Lady Pirates to focus more on playing together as a team rather than relying on their own individual talents.
“When we struggled we had to play together more, and we had to rely on each other,” Powell said. “So whenever we’re playing really well, it just comes natural, and it’s like we’ve been playing together forever.”
“They’re very talented, and they are very cohesive,” Haugh said. “When they play together we pass well and that’s been the difference.”
Braden River will return to action Sept. 18-19 when they compete in the Tri-County Tournament.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].