The Warriors won the program's first state title with a 25-23, 25-20, 27-25 sweep of Palm Beach Gardens at the University of North Florida Arena Nov. 18.
JACKSONVILLE The West Orange girls volleyball team won its first FHSAA State Championship in fitting fashion Saturday night — the Warriors won by a sweep.
West Orange, which had lost only four sets all season and swept its opponents in 25 of its 28 wins ahead of the state final, added one more sweep to close its undefeated championship run. A block by senior Baylor Bumford completed the Warriors' (29-0) sweep of Palm Beach Gardens in the FHSAA Class 9A State Final: 25-23, 25-20 and 27-25.
And, as the team celebrated on the court at the University of North Florida Arena, it was clear the program's perfect season had its perfect ending.
"I told them 'you practice your whole lives for this moment — people want this moment in their careers and you get it,'" head coach Ross Usie said. "I told them 'it's your turn to take it now.'"
West Orange did just that, overcoming some early frustrations with the Gators' size and athleticism at the net.
"They were tall, and we hadn't play a team that was this big before — it was a challenge at first," senior Makala Heidelberg said.
The Warriors weathered the early storm and managed to edge Palm Beach Gardens (26-2) in a back-and-forth first set. As it turned out, that effort in the first set proved crucial, as the Gators never quite rebounded after they had put their best foot forward early.
“We should have taken that first game and we didn’t,” Palm Beach Gardens head coach Joy VanDyke said. “I think the fear of losing the (second) set was too big in our minds. When we finally decided we were going to start playing our game it was too late — (West Orange's) hitters and their blockers had found their momentum.”
Sophomore Taylor Head led the Warriors with 19 kills and Heidelberg added 15 of her own. Bumford had a match-high 24 assists and junior Torey Baum led all defenders with 18 digs.
In the end, though it was Palm Beach Gardens who had come out aggressive at the net, it was the Warriors who — as a team — totaled 33 blocks.
Maddie May Anderson led the Gators with a match-high 21 kills and 12 blocks.
The state title completes a season in which Usie, who took over the program before it even had a playoff victory to its credit, knew his squad had the potential after consecutive regional final losses in 2015 and 2016.
"I knew we had the players, and I think everything just kind of fit into place," Usie said. "We just focus on getting better the next year — and we've done that every single year."