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St. Brendan volleyball makes history

Girls team reaches state semifinals for first time in 39 years

St. Brendan players (from left) Emily Diaz, Katerina Jimenez and Isabella Kouri celebrate a point during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Brendan players (from left) Emily Diaz, Katerina Jimenez and Isabella Kouri celebrate a point during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Look for coverage of St. Thomas Aquinas’ state final match next week. 

ORLANDO | St. Brendan’s girls volleyball team made history Nov. 9, advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in 39 years. The Sabres’ bid for their first state title since 1976 ended with a 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to Orlando Lake Highland Prep.

The Sabres (25-5) lost in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 7A region finals – once losing to the eventual champion. There’s a chance that may happen again, as Lake Highland Prep is No. 1 in Class 4A and No. 2 in the state all-class MaxPreps rankings.

 

SENIORS SET THE TONE

St. Brendan coach Emilio Urgell credited the seniors with strong leadership and execution on offense and the block. He said that helped the team stay together.

St. Brendan coach Emilio Urgell calls a serve during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Brendan coach Emilio Urgell calls a serve during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Juliana Lentz, a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter who committed to Florida Gulf Coast University, said the team was actually more like a family. She said the team grew closer outside volleyball, which improved their on-court chemistry.

“We kind of knew the next move the person next to us was going to make,” Lentz said. “We didn’t doubt each other.”

Lentz and 6-foot senior Nataly Hernandez made a devastating blocking combo, in addition to attack. Lentz finished with 120 blocks to go with her 207 kills. Hernandez finished the season with 186 kills and 63 blocks.

The block and digging from Sarah Diaz (291 digs) and Melanie Sanchez (149 digs) benefited Lentz, Emily Diaz and Hernandez. Emily Diaz led the Sabres’ hitters with 269 kills. That included nine against Lake Highland Prep. She also contributed to the defense with 208 digs and 39 blocks.

Emily Diaz credited the Sabres’ mental game with their improvement. “Mentally, we prepared ourselves to stay composed on the court, win or lose,” she said. “We just have to stay composed and work the whole way through.”

The Sabres had to deal with losing senior setter Valentina Mayz to a hand injury in late September. St. Brendan turned to sophomore setter Allison Ibarria, who finished the season leading with 356 assists. Freshman Sofia Sanchez added 130 assists.

St. Brendan outside hitter Emily Diaz tries to pass a serve to the setter in Game 1 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Brendan outside hitter Emily Diaz tries to pass a serve to the setter in Game 1 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

“When we lost Valentina, it was like a very big impact on the team,” Ibarria said. “She was with all the seniors. Valentina inspired me to become as good a setter as she was. I think I did a pretty good job with that. I’m really blessed to have Valentina in my life.”

 

FACING NO. 1

St. Brendan stood toe to toe with the Highlanders early in the first two games, fighting to a 7-7 tie in the first game and a 6-6 tie in the second. In each of those games, either the Sabres committed a string of errors or Lake Highland Prep sprinkled in one if its nine aces or a kill to build a string of points to pull away.

The third game was different. In that game, the Sabres fought back several times to nearly catch the Highlanders. St. Brendan finally took a lead 17-16 on a block by Lentz and Isabella Azevedo. Four different Sabres had kills in that stretch.

After trading points, a service error put Lake Highland Prep ahead 19-18, then Ranya Mehta had three kills and a block as the Highlanders closed out the victory.

 

BUILDING ON SUCCESS

The Sabres lose seven seniors this year. Lentz said the seniors took pride in surpassing the regional finals, if only because it was weighing on the seniors’ minds. She said it brought tears to her eyes thinking she was fortunate to face a top team at this stage.

She now challenges the returnees to take the next step. “We left a little pressure on them,” Lentz said. “They should reflect on what we left them. I thought that their dedication was the same as ours. That inspires them to be better next year. That’s what we wanted this year.”

St. Brendan outside hitter Nataly Hernandez, right, tries to hit through Lake Highland Prep's block during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Brendan outside hitter Nataly Hernandez, right, tries to hit through Lake Highland Prep's block during Game 3 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Ibarria thanked the seniors for their legacy. They ended a nine-year playoff drought by making it to the region finals in 2016-18. The returnees now take on the mantle of taking the next step.

“I think we should work harder,” Ibarria said. “With the freshmen coming in next year, they have to work hard so we can bond on and off the court.”

 

OTHER VOLLEYBALL PLAYOFFS

St. Brendan was one of three archdiocesan teams that earned playoff spots in Class 4A. It earned Region 4-4A’s top seed, while Immaculata La Salle was fourth and Cardinal Gibbons was fifth. St. Brendan ousted Pompano Beach 25-13, 28-26, 25-13, forcing a region semifinal clash against Gibbons, which had beaten Immaculata La Salle 25-10, 25-13, 25-19.

St. Brendan then beat Gibbons 22-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-16 in the region semifinals and downed Coral Springs Charter 25-18, 25-17, 24-26, 25-19 to reach the state semifinals. The Sabres won the 1976 state championship and were state finalists in 1980.

Archbishop McCarthy advanced to the Region 4-5A final before falling to Naples Barron Collier 25-21, 25-14, 21-25, 25-20. The Mavericks earned the third seed, then beat Naples 25-15, 25-9, 25-23 and Riviera Beach Suncoast 25-13, 25-20, 25-21 to reach the region final.

In the Class 3A bracket, Chaminade-Madonna earned Region 4’s fourth seed. The Lions lost to Riviera Prep 25-18, 25-22, 15-25, 25-17.

St. Brendan middle blocker Juliana Lentz calls a blocking scheme during Game 2 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

Photographer: LYNN RAMSEY | FC

St. Brendan middle blocker Juliana Lentz calls a blocking scheme during Game 2 of St. Brendan's 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Orlando Lake Highland Prep in the teams' Class 4A state semifinal girls volleyball match at Wang Gymnasium in Orlando, Nov. 9, 2019. St. Brendan had reached the state semifinals for the first time since a state finals berth in 1980.

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