Northeast Florida High School Volleyball Second-Round Playoffs: Ridgeview, Ponte Vedra Win – The Florida Times-Union

REGION 1-5ARidgeview coach Stephen Henry needed only one word to describe the key to the Panthers’ first-ever second-round playoff victory.

“Blocking was our main thing,” Ridgeview coach Stephen Henry said. “Without that, I don’t think we would have been nearly as good. They were focused.”

Using their height and their power down the middle from start to finish, Ridgeview topped Choctawhatchee 25-17, 25-10, 25-21 in Wednesday night’s Florida High School Athletic Association Region 1-5A volleyball semifinal to secure their first-ever trip to a regional final.

Haley Robinson, Zoe Whaley, London Francis and the high-leaping Panthers kept visiting Choctaw, the 2017 state champion, off balance through the evening in a block party at the Panther Den.

“I work on my timing a lot, so I see when they go up to hit the ball, I make sure my hands are right there on the ball,” Robinson said.

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That power was enough for the Panthers to overcome Choctaw (21-8) and limit the damage from junior outside hitter Iyonnie Sanford, who entered the night in the state top five with 461 kills.

Instead, it was Ridgeview’s Elaina Reynolds and Teeya Desgoutte taking advantage of those kill opportunities.

“They’re very balanced,” Choctaw coach Andy Faulkner said. “All their hitters are great hitters, they play great defense. They put a lot of pressure on you with hitters coming at you from all directions, hitting with high percentage and hitting the ball hard.”

Henry said he suspected that the Panthers’ height, length and leaps might disrupt Choctaw.

“I don’t think the Panhandle’s used to a blocking team like this,” he said, citing Ridgeview’s previous success against Arnold from Panama City Beach.

Ridgeview won the first set comfortably and blew open a 7-7 second into a 25-10 rout, commanding point after point off the serve.

But Choctaw pushed into the lead midway through the third after several kills from Sanford. But Ridgeview’s blocking game took command, with two blocks from Whaley, before Reynolds blasted the match point.

“When we serve tough, we get them out of system,” Henry said. “We got a lot of those free balls, our hitters got on fire in a nice little rhythm, our setter [Mariah Bostic-Jones] was connecting well. It was hard for them to stop.”

The Panthers (17-7) next travel to Lynn Haven Mosley, which ended Middleburg’s run in the regional semis with a 25-19, 25-19, 25-13 sweep.

Middleburg closes the year at 18-11.

REGION 1-6AJunior Zeta Washington powered state champion Ponte Vedra with 11 aces and nine kills to blast into the regional final once more, rolling to a 25-12, 25-12, 25-9 sweep of visiting Niceville (10-10).

Jessica Shattles supplied 23 assists and Ava Witt got nine digs for the Sharks (27-1), ranked first in the class and unbeaten at home now for more than five years.

Ponte Vedra’s victory sets up a massive showdown at 2 p.m. Saturday against Tallahassee Leon, which defeated Gulf Breeze in four sets Wednesday night.

Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.