St. Francis knocks off Buchholz in opener


Ann Lorrayne Bzoch (4) of St. Francis pumps her fist as she celebrates with teammates after a score against Buchholz in the season opener for both volleyball teams on Tuesday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.

Despite returning the most experienced squad in the area, there is something about a season opener that can make even defending Class 3A state finalists nervous.

St. Francis found that out Tuesday night in its gym against Buchholz.

Down 1-0, the Wolves responded by sweeping the next three sets to top the 7A Bobcats, 16-25, 25-17, 25-18, 25-14, marking the first time St. Francis had beaten Buchholz in volleyball.

Before Tuesday night, the Wolves were 0-5 against the Bobcats, including last year's Gator Town Classic final. But after the first set, St. Francis took control and never let go.

“It kind of shows no matter how experienced you are you can still come out with jitters in the first set,” said Wolves coach Nick Cheronis. “That's what happened. They turned it around and played much better after that.”

Senior Allison Benton had 19 kills, 10 digs and one ace while senior Paige Stockman added 14 kills and four aces for St. Francis. Stockman had six of her kills in the second set while Benton had eight of hers in the third.

“I thought Farah Rajaee was the difference tonight,” Cheronis said. “She distributed the ball so Allison and Paige could get their kills.”

Rajaee, also one of 10 senior Wolves, had 26 assists, along with three aces, three kills and 15 digs.

It was Jacque Robinson Huggins' debut as Buchholz coach. Huggins played volleyball for Cheronis during his 18 years as UF assistant coach.

“Coaching against Nick Cheronis probably was the coolest thing that I have done so far,” said Huggins, Buchholz's third coach in three years. “If you would have told me when I was 17 years old, that I would be coaching against Nick on the other side of the net, I wouldn't have believed it.

“I learned a lot from him. It is really an honor to be coaching against him in the same gym. He is fantastic. I have nothing but love and respect for Nick. I hope his girls realize how lucky they are to have him as their coach.”

The Bobcats, who a year ago reached the 7A state semifinals, lost a lot of talent from that squad and have just two seniors in Julie Fuchs and Keesia Hagley. Sophomore setter Kate Hellkamp had 27 assists and four digs for Buchholz while junior Kandace Tice had eight kills and 13 digs.

St. Francis had five serves into the net and six unforced errors in dropping the first set. But the nerves of the first set hardly showed in the second as the Wolves never trailed.

In the third set, St. Francis outscored the Bobcats 10-4 down the stretch and outscored Buchholz 22-11 after an early 3-3 tie in the fourth.

“We came out guns blazing, which is a good thing,” Huggins said. “But it gave Nick's team a chance to wake up and they came back. They really stepped on the gas there and didn't let up.

“Our team came out out strong, just like I wanted. We have to work on keeping that pace alive for the whole match. We are a young team, but to me that doesn't matter. The girls have gotten better since last week in our jamboree. That is all I can ask for, to improve at each match.”

St. Francis returns to action tonight when it plays at Ocala Forest. Buchholz plays its District 3-7A opener at home on Thursday against Neptune Beach Fletcher.

“That's a pretty young team over there and they are trying to replace some really good players from a year ago,” Cheronis said. “Jacque is one of the nicest persons you will ever meet, and I know she will do a good job with that program.”

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