The undefeated Warriors swept their neighborhood rival in the state semifinal Saturday afternoon, meaning they advance to next week's FHSAA Class 9A State Championship Match at the University of North Florida Arena.
WINTER GARDEN Next stop, Jacksonville.
The West Orange Warriors (28-0) swept their backyard rival, the Olympia Titans, in the FHSAA Class 9A State Semifinals Saturday afternoon: 25-23, 25-18 and 25-16.
With the victory, the Warriors — who were already in uncharted waters after winning the program's first regional championship this past Tuesday — will advance to the state championship game at 7 p.m., Nov. 18, at the University of North Florida Arena in Jacksonville.
"It's amazing — I've been working for this since my freshman year," said senior outside hitter Makala Heidelberg, who rose up for the final kill of the match. "We've always talked about (making it to state)."
The matchup of Metro Conference foes in the state semifinals was a first, adding to the unique and exciting context of the match.
West Orange did not drop a set in the match, which drew an enthusiastic crowd supporting both sides on a Saturday afternoon, but that does not mean the match was without intrigue.
A fired up Olympia squad that initially was down 7-2 in the opening set came back quickly and with a vengeance. The Titans went on a run that saw them take a 21-17 lead, threatening to take the first set and completely change the tone of the match. The Warriors battled back, though, and took that opening set — something veteran Olympia coach Mitch Sadowsky saw as a tough thing to come back from.
"Our energy in the first set was really, really good," Sadowsky said. "When you work that hard, and it goes a little sideways at the end (of the set), it's really hard to sustain that energy the next two sets. I don't think there's anything that we particularly did poorly, I just think West Orange comes at you so hard, from so many different areas."
The Titans continued to hang tough during the second set, trailing 19-16 at one point, but eventually the Warriors did pull away.
"We knew they were going to come out strong," West Orange coach Usie said. "(Olympia) had a lot of confidence ... we knew they were going to play their hearts out."
Olympia ends the season with a record of 14-18 — the Titans 22-10 not including forfeited games for an ineligible player. With all the success the program has seen under Sadowsky, this season's run to the state semis was a first for him and the team — so, despite the sting of defeat, it was hard to argue that the 2017 campaign was not a success for Olympia.
"I don't know if we're disappointed," Sadowsky said. "Obviously, with ending the season with a loss, we are (disappointed). But I think (this season) gives our younger underclassmen an idea of how hard they need to work and the execution and effort level it takes to get here."
West Orange will now prepare to face Palm Beach Gardens (26-1) in the FHSAA Class 9A State Championship. Usie says he intends to maintain the routine his squad has kept throughout its undefeated campaign ahead of the final match of the high-school season in Florida.
"It's just another game," Usie said. "(My message will be) 'Let's play our game, give it the best we have and stay focused.'"