After opening the season on Aug. 27 against Jones, the West Orange volleyball team took a few days off — 12 days, to be exact.
Two days after that first match after the break, a 3-0 sweep over Wekiva, the Warriors got their first true test of the season — a road match at district rival Apopka. West Orange aced that test to the tune of a sweep (25-22, 25-16, 27-25).
And, while the Warriors (7-1) did get their first loss of the season over the weekend at the Lake Highland Prep-Winter Park Showcase at Orlando Volley Academy; but it came in a gutsy showing the championship of the Premiere Division Tournament to the defending Class 8A State Champions, Manatee (Bradenton), 2-0 (25-22, 25-23).
Now, ahead of an important stretch of the schedule that includes a rematch against Apopka at home and a televised game against The First Academy, head coach Ross Usie says he and his team are just happy to be in the swing of things.
“We’re really ready just to play,” Usie said, referring to the unusual layoff between West Orange’s first and second games. “The girls, I had to keep their focus, but we’re just ready to play and face some good teams.”
The Warriors played — and defeated — some stiff competition over the weekend, but really got things going on Sept. 10 against the Blue Darters. The third set would prove to be perhaps the most valuable in the 3-0 sweep, as Usie’s squad rallied to come-from-behind a force a deuce by tying the score at 24-24, eventually winning the set 27-25.
“(They showed) composure,” Usie said afterward. “We never really let ourselves get frustrated. (Apopka) had some huge blocks and huge kills, and that’s a compliment to their hitters and blockers, and I think we didn’t let that effect our play for the rest of the time.”
Throughout the stretch of six matches in three days, the Warriors showcased both their depth and surprising defense. Beyond standout outside hitters Lauren Miller and Makala Heidelberg — who had 14 kills against Apopka — West Orange got strong play above the net from a large supporting cast. Meanwhile, led by senior setter Stephanie Garner and Sydney Bowles — who had 19 digs against the Blue Darters — the Warriors defense has shown through as a bigger strength than expected.
“We prepared a lot this week for defense — I think our defense will be a good key for us,” Usie said. “The heart that the girls have, they’re going to fight for every ball and they’re going to have to prove something every ball — and they do.”
Big time back-to-back
The West Orange Warriors will play their first home game of the 2015 season on Sept. 15 against Evans. If you’d like to catch the Warriors at home, though, in one of the biggest matches of the season, you will have two opportunities next week.
On Sept. 22, West Orange will host district rival Apopka, with the varsity match schedule to begin at 7:30 p.m.
Then, the next day, the Warriors will take on powerhouse-The First Academy in a match televised on Bright House Sports Network (Channel 47/HD 1147) that will begin promptly at 7 p.m.
After suffering its first loss of the season to Oviedo on Sept. 3, the Olympia Titans responded with two consecutive wins last week to improve to 6-1on the fall. Looming for the Titans is the C-M Cares Volleyball Invitational this weekend, with a big match against rival West Orange looming on Oct. 1. … The Windermere Prep Lakers continued their strong start to the fall by placing fourth in their division at the Lake Highland Prep-Winter Park Showcase, going 3-2 over the course of the event. The Lakers are 5-3.