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East County Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 2 months ago

Prose and Kohn: Pirates prevail in district tournament (and beyond)

It has been a banner season for Braden River volleyball
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

After the Braden River High volleyball team's 3-0 district semifinal home win against Manatee High Oct. 19, the Pirates players and coaches huddled together and began pointing to the banners hanging on their gym's walls. 

Compared to the other school sports programs, the volleyball team has had quite the drought, not winning a district championship since 2010.

Two days later, the Pirates earned their banner.

Braden River swept Bloomingdale High 3-0 to capture the Class 6A District 7 title. The Pirates had plenty of stars, including sophomore Aryanna Spainhower, who had 12 kills, eight digs and three blocks; senior Sierra Arnsperger, who had eight kills, four aces and four digs; and junior Courtney Kawcak, who had 23 assists and three digs. 

"It's a sign that we're continuing to build this program," Pirates head Coach Matthew McElhiney said. "We have had some good teams over the years who have just not been able to get it done for whatever reason. This is cool for the players. They get to say they won a district championship and they get a home (regional) playoff game, which is nice as well."

It was a long time coming for Braden River, which is now 20-7 on the season. McElhiney said the key to this year's team is not talent — though the Pirates do have that — but learning how to play together on the court.

"It's not always a mindset of 'Go kill the ball every time you swing,'" McElhiney said. "It's about making the plays that better everyone around you. I have seen their level of maturity jump from when we started the season through now. We have a bunch of sophomores and juniors. It's a relatively young team. They had to figure those things out for themselves and they did." 

Arnsperger said in September that she noticed the team's chemistry increasing when the team got off to a 10-2 start. Arnsperger said many of the Pirates play club volleyball together which helps jump start those relationships. It sounds basic, a player can't bump, set and spike all by herself. Even an elite player can't carry an entire team to a championship.

The Pirates are a real team, in every sense, and that has carried them to a banner. 

After a midseason slump starting Sept. 21 where the Pirates lost five of eight matches, Braden River has now won seven straight. The Pirates will host a to-be-determined opponent Oct. 27 in the regional quarterfinals. (UPDATE: The Pirates defeated Fort Myers High 3-1 to advance to the regional semifinals. The Pirates will play Riverdale High at 7 p.m. Tuesday on the road.)

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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