West Orange volleyball wins 5-set thriller against Apopka in state playoffs

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  • | 5:09 p.m. October 31, 2015
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WINTER GARDEN  For the better part of its Class 8A, Region 1 Semifinal match Oct. 31, West Orange's dream season was on life support.

At one point, it nearly flatlined.

After having defeated Apopka three times already this season — and having taken the first set of Saturday's match — the Warriors found themselves within a set of elimination after the Blue Darters took the second and third sets by a combined 28 points. Then, after West Orange took the fourth set, 25-14, the deciding fifth set to 15 saw Apopka come within a point of advancing after taking a 14-12 lead.

But senior captain Stephanie Garner and her teammates simply weren't ready to call it quits.

Garner registered two kills and a massive block in the match's closing moments and the Warriors (26-3) survived the Blue Darters to take the fifth set — and the match — 16-14.

Afterward, Garner said she motivated by more than just the reality of being a senior who didn't want to see her varsity career end just yet.

"For me, I kind of play for the younger girls, too — I know it's the last time I get to play with a lot of them who are all my friends," Garner said. "I just did everything I could to extend our season even farther."

West Orange, which was led by 23 kills and 18 digs from sophomore Makala Heidelberg as well as 21 digs and 2 aces from sophomore Sydney Bowles, looked out of sorts and visibly frustrated while getting soundly defeated in the second and third sets. A combination of teammates sharing inspirational quotes with one another and some perspective from head coach Ross Usie helped calm the girls with their season on the line.

"I reminded them of last season, when we lost to Apopka in the district finals 25-9 in the first set — that was the biggest loss we had that season," Usie said. "We still came back and won (that match) in five sets. I made sure that they still had the confidence to keep fighting."

Things will only get tougher for the Warriors, though. West Orange will advance to the Region 1 Championship on Nov. 3 and will be on the road against Winter Springs. The Bears (27-2) are ranked No. 9 in the nation in MaxPrep's Xcellent 25 poll and are ranked No. 2 in the state, also by MaxPreps.

That match will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and, although the task has never been taller, Garner laid out a simple course of action for how the Warriors might approach the road ahead.

"We get back in the gym on Monday and we work hard."