WINTER GARDEN — The West Orange Warriors made history Tuesday night.
West Orange held off a spirited rally from Dr. Phillips in the regional quarterfinals of the Class 8A State Tournament for a 3-1 win (25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 26-24).
The victory was the first playoff win in program history for the Warriors.
Senior Jen Cook rose up for the final kill that sealed the deal, and the talented outside hitter said afterward that the biggest thing for West Orange (22-6) was keeping its typical loose demeanor in tight spots — even after the Panthers (14-14) forced a deuce to decide the fourth set.
“Honestly we’re just joking around and laughing,” Cook said. “We can’t get too serious because when we get serious we get down.”
It may have been all fun and excitement for the Warriors, but for fourth-year coach Ross Usie the game may have shortened his life by a few years.
“Well, high blood pressure runs in my family so I’m pretty sure I got tested tonight,” Usie joked.
Freshman Makala Heidelberg led West Orange on the night with 15 kills, 16 digs, 6 aces and a block, while senior Jayden Davila-McClary added in 24 assists, 21 digs and 7 kills.
Dr. Phillips, which saw its season come to a close on Tuesday, was led by senior outside hitter Rachel Sawyer’s 13 kills, 13 digs and four aces.
For the Warriors’ seniors, who along with Usie have been instrumental in the program’s renaissance of late, being members of the first West Orange volleyball team to score a playoff victory was years in the making.
“We’ve just been working so hard over the years trying to build this program,” Cook said. “We play like a completely different team from my freshman year.”
The Warriors will hit the road for the regional semifinals on Tuesday, Nov. 4, to take on the winner of the regional quarterfinal match between Boone and Apopka. The winner of Tuesday’s match will advance to the Class 8A regional final on Nov. 8.
West Orange won’t celebrate long, as the road in the state playoffs only gets tougher, but there is always something to be said for being the first.
“I’m excited,” Usie said. “That was some of the motivation that I had (for the team) — I said ‘ladies, we can go the farthest any West Orange volleyball team has ever gone in West Orange history.’