Make it 13 straight years that the Ponte Vedra Sharks have won a district title, but it was not won without a fight as they defeated the Fleming Island Golden Eagles in four sets, 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 28-26.
“It’s just crazy and exciting that I get to be here and part of a program that has been doing it for so long,” Ponte Vedra senior outside hitter Ava Grall said. “I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
Every one of the four sets saw both teams going back and forth trading momentum, as it turned out to be a very evenly matched contest between the two squads.
“There was a lot of energy by both teams and great full stands of support all night,” Ponte Vedra head coach John Goings said. “It was one fun night.”
The largest lead of the district 3-6A championship for either team was six points, after the Sharks (13-13) jumped out to an 8-2 lead early in the third set.
That came after the Sharks were able to string together some points late to pull away in the first two sets to take a 2-0 lead.
And it looked as if the Sharks were poised to take complete control when they quickly formed a lead in the third set, but the Golden Eagles (19-7) were having none of it and chipped away at the deficit and eventually grabbed the lead before seemingly trading points before securing the set victory in the end.
The win pumped life into the Golden Eagles, who received key offensive play by senior middle Rauly Eason and junior outside hitter Kaylee Kirkland during their comeback bid.
However, just as the Golden Eagles showed the mental toughness to narrow the gap, the Sharks responded nicely from the adversity they faced as well and did not let the third set loss rattle them.
Instead, the Sharks regrouped and were able to fend off the Golden Eagles in a relentless fourth set by both teams.
It was obvious at times that a district title was on the line with the way both teams were hitting the floor diving for balls in order to keep rallies going and keep hope alive for every possible point, and in the end, those points added up and the result was yet another title for the Sharks trophy case.
It has been a year of continued development for the Sharks, as they have a very young team with several players who are just beginning to make their mark at the varsity level.
“This year it was more about making sure that they grew as a team,” Goings said. “They’ve really been holding each other accountable the whole time, and they really support each other. I don’t even have to say that much during timeouts because they already know.”
Helping create that culture of accountability has been the leadership of the team’s three seniors.
“I looked up to our seniors so much last year, and this year I’ve realized that I could be that for others,” Grall said. “I’ve really tried to step into that leadership role to help the team.”
Every Sharks’ player got into the game at some point on the night, including some that had been called up to the varsity squad from junior varsity during the season.
According to Goings, the development of the young players throughout the regular season is something that is really showing up and making a difference in the postseason.
“They know that they can come in and battle for every spot at practice, and that’s what pushes them to be better,” Goings said.
The veteran leaders provided big production as Grall finished with a team-high 22 kills in the game, while fellow senior Chelsea Sutton led the way with five blocks and her sister Morgan Sutton was right behind her with four blocks on the night.
Sophomore libero Avery Webb led the way with 24 digs in the title bout.
The Sharks followed up the performance with another win, defeating Tallahassee Leon in a thrilling five sets, 25-14, 10-25, 25-18, 20-25, 17-15 in the Class 6A regional quarterfinals.
Next up, they will travel to face No. 1 seed Gulf Breeze on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. in the regional semifinals.