Editor’s note: Records and statistics are as of press time Tuesday, Sept. 21.
For West Orange’s public high school girls volleyball teams, the Metro West Conference Girls Volleyball Tournament is the annual forum that crowns the area’s best squad.
And with two new West Orange- and Southwest Orange-area teams, this year’s tournament promises to be both exciting and telling. Several teams in our coverage area are ranked highly heading into the tournament, with four taking up top five positions.
The tournament takes place from Oct. 1 to 2.
Here is a mid-season update — organized by ranking — on each of our coverage-area schools.
No. 1 Windermere Wolverines
Windermere blazed through the first part of the 2021 season. The Wolverines (13-1) won their first 13 games and swept 29 straight sets before losing in straight sets to Central Pointe Christian Academy Sept. 18.
First-year head coach Daniel “Omi” Fuentes said the loss to the White Tigers was the wakeup call the team needed as it prepares for the tournament.
“I was looking for that wakeup call, and (the players) were looking for that wakeup call,” Fuentes said. “We took it in a good way, because we were looking for those high-quality matchups to see where we stand.”
Although the Wolverines are the tentative No. 1 seed in the West bracket, Fuentes and his team are not comfortable. Furthermore, although he said having a first-round bye was an advantage, the seedings were not that important to him and the team.
“We’re not trying to focus a lot of energy on (seedings); we just want to go out and do our job,” Fuentes said. “If we get the first seed, we’ll take advantage of that, because we’re going to have a better view of the competition, but it’s not taking up our attention.”
The Wolverine squad is anchored by outside hitters Ana Bleeker and Ashtyn Sims, and middle hitter Keondreya “Keke” Granberry. However, Fuentes said every member of the squad is crucial to its success.
“Stay humble, stay hungry; that’s the kind of group they are,” Fuentes said.
No. 2 Olympia Titans
After a fast start to the season, during which they won eight of their first nine games, the Olympia Titans (9-5) are left trying to rediscover the magic while in the midst of a short cold streak.
Players such as Abigayle Dickinson, Gabriella Armitage and Amanda Ford have led the way early for the Titans. As of press time Tuesday, Dickinson leads all Central Florida outside hitters with 152 kills; and Armitage is not that far behind in second place as a right side hitter. She also has the team lead in aces.
Libero Amanda Ford leads the defense in digs.
First-year head coach Semei Tello said the Titans have enjoyed success because of their energy and chemistry. However, there’s always aspects of the game to improve — and even some things beyond their control.
“We’re undersized at the net a little to where teams can power through,” Tello said. “We have to get a lot of our points with finesse … but we need to have more than power work to get points.”
Tello said the Titans also will continue working on making smart decisions with the ball and improving serves. Much of that falls on Ford.
“Liberos are always the unsung heroes on volleyball teams,” Tello said. “They don’t get all the flashy plays, but Amanda has been a huge part of our success here at Olympia.”
As the tentative second seed in the tournament, Olympia would have a first-round bye and await the winner of the Apopka-Wekiva game early on Oct. 1. The Titans played the Blue Darters Aug. 24 and won in straight sets.
No. 3 West Orange Warriors
West Orange has won three of its four home games so far — a silver lining at this point in the season. Despite their 6-12 record, most of the Warriors’ loses have come in tournament settings.
Offensively, West Orange is led by outside hitter Madison Smith. She leads the team in kills and digs. Senior captain Cambrie Riffe, older sister to West Orange football offensive linemen Brody and Greysen Riffe, leads the team in serving receives and is second in digs and kills.
Heading into the tournament, the Warriors have a chance to get their season back on track before the district tournament in October. As the third seed, the team gets a first-round bye and will tentatively play the winner of the Evans and Dr. Phillips game Oct. 1.
No. 5 Horizon Hawks
As one of the new teams in West Orange, Horizon (5-2) has turned many heads with its fast start to the season. It started from the first game, as the Hawks earned Horizon’s first varsity athletics victory Aug. 24 against Ocoee — whom they beat in three straight sets.
Horizon has won 16 sets total and lost only seven as it claimed five of its first seven games.
Some key players to the Hawks are libero Gabby Park and outside hitter Camryn Teasley. Horizon has established itself as a young team with a lot of promise right out the gate as it prepares to face stiffer competition.
As the fifth seed in the Metro West Conference tournament, Horizon will play the fourth seeded Edgewood in the quarterfinal matchup Oct. 1.
No. 6 Dr. Phillips Panthers
One year removed from losing in the district semifinals in 2020 and two from losing in the district finals, Dr. Phillips (3-9) has struggled in the beginning of the 2021 season.
The Panthers lost their first three matches and have tried to find consistency in their play as they prepare for the Metro West Conference tournament.
To the outside world, Dr. Phillips is going through a transition year, after losing four of its top six players. However, head coach Emily Loftus prefers a different perspective.
“We have a lot of players (who) are getting their chance to play varsity, and it’s taking them time to get up to that higher speed,” Loftus said. “These are the times where you get into the nitty-gritty of coaching, and I like that.”
Loftus contributes the slow start to the strength of schedule and also the team trying to get on the same page offensively.
“We have the hardest schedule in Orange County — not even joking,” Loftus said. “We’re in there playing the top teams, and we’re not losing in straight sets or scores like 25-15. We’re right there; it’s only been a point or two here and there where we’ve been outdone.”
Finding that offensive consistency and executing its game plan will be keys for Dr. Phillips as it enters its first-round game against 11th-seeded Evans. Loftus said her squad is ready to prove it is more formidable than its No. 6 seed may indicate.
“The record does not reflect the quality of teams we have played so far,” she said. “It’s a shame it has to stack up that way, but we’re ready to fight and show that underdog mentality.”
The Panthers’ game will be the second game played, but the first on court 2 at 5 p.m. Oct. 1.
No. 8 Ocoee Knights
As the eighth seed heading into the tournament, Ocoee (3-4) is a team finding its identity. It has had games so far during which it looks like a really good team, as well as games in which the Knights are searching for answers.
Ocoee is an experienced squad, with seven seniors and only two underclassmen. Two years removed from the 1-17 season, this group has fought hard to reach where it is now. Two of the Knights’ wins have come in straight sets, while their win over Central Florida Christian was in five sets.
The Knights will play the second game on court 1 against the ninth-seeded Lake Buena Vista Oct. 1.
No. 9 Lake Buena Vista Vipers
The second addition to West Orange County athletics is Lake Buena Vista (2-6).
Through the first part of the season, the Vipers have been finding their way as most young programs do. Losing their first four matches gave way to two straight wins, which is good for a young team to get its confidence up and have something to build on early in the season.
The Vipers’ biggest test will come in the Metro West tournament as they mix it up with teams from across the West Orange County area. Their first game will be against the eighth-seeded Ocoee Knights Oct. 1.