ALACHUA — Seven hundred and thirty five days had passed since the Jacksonville Bishop Kenny Crusaders upset the Santa Fe Raiders in the regional final match back on Oct. 31, 2020.
The Crusaders went on to cruise their way to a state championship that season.
“Still angry,” Santa Fe head coach Eric Marshall said of 2020’s loss to the Crusaders. “It’s like it was yesterday for these kids. Because they feel like they should have two state championships.”
Since then, the Raiders are 3-0 against the Crusaders, including Saturday’s sweep (25-14, 25-16, 25-20) in the Class 4A state semifinal, sending Santa Fe to its second consecutive state title game.
The Raiders will face Tampa’s Academy of the Holy Names in the 4A state final next Saturday at 4 pm
Unlike last year’s state championship, which was held at Florida Southwestern State College in Fort Myers, the Raiders will head to Winter Haven for this season’s title fight, which is set to be hosted by Polk State College.
After getting some rest and a few practices, the Raiders will head to Winter Haven on Friday.
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Here are takeaways from Saturday’s action from Raider Gym.
Jalyn Stout, Raiders set the tone early
While Santa Fe might’ve swept Bishop Moore in Tuesday’s state quarterfinal, those three sets didn’t come easy as the Raiders got out to a slower-than-usual start.
However, that wasn’t the case against the Crusaders.
In the first set, Santa Fe opened with a big run, outscoring Bishop Kenny 8-1 as senior Jalyn Stout notched three kills early.
The Raiders and Crusaders would go on a spell of trading points midway through the set before Santa Fe polished it off with a 5-1 run that saw junior Joselynn Sanjurjo come to life and tally a trio of points.
The story was much the same in the second set as the Raiders broke it open with an eight-point run that saw Stout add six points.
“She didn’t have an error until her 32nd swing,” Marshall said of Stout, who reigned as the Florida Dairy Farmer’s Miss Volleyball. “Right until the end we were able to run our offense, which is why Jalyn didn’t have any errors. The ball was being put where she needed it to be put.”
Stout finished the match with a team-leading 21 kills.
Santa Fe generated a six-point run midway through the set, followed by another six-point tear to close out the set and take a 2-0 lead.
“That’s two and a half or two and three quarters of the best sets we’ve played all year,” Marshall said.
Putting a ball on the ground proves tough against Santa Fe
Marshall says he and his coaching staff have a lot of fun in practice challenging the girls to keep a ball from hitting the ground.
“They’ve gotta chase those balls,” Marshall said. “We throw those balls all over the gym and see who can get to those balls.”
And it paid off against Bishop Kenny as senior Miya Thomas and junior Olivia Beavers put on a showcase, diving around and sacrificing their body to keep the ball from meeting the hardwood.
It was the acrobatic digs from Thomas and Beavers that fired up a packed Raider Gym. However, Marshall says the dig is just the first part of the success.
“What the average fan won’t realize is what we did out of that,” Marshall said. “Most people would just throw that ball over the net and live to fight another day. But that’s not what these kids are doing. They’re setting the ball out of these crazy plays and as you saw, that’s what gets the fans jacked up .”
Thomas finished the night with a team-leading 24 digs, while Beavers added six. Seniors Sarah Falck (10 digs) and Anisa Dorlouis (9 digs) also contributed.
Raiders look to go back-to-back
Santa Fe captured the program’s first state championship last fall with a sweep of Calvary Christian Academy on Nov. 17, 2021.
Following Saturday’s win over Bishop Kenny, the Raiders will have an opportunity to bring more hardware back to Alachua. However, it won’t come easy.
Academy of the Holy Names is 22-4 and on a six-match win streak – all via sweep.
“We’re going to have to play that way to beat Academy of the Holy Names,” Marshall said, referring to Saturday’s win. “They are incredible.”