Wolves fall in Gator Town Classic final

St. Francis player Ann Lorrayne Bzoch sets up for a dig during the Gator Town Classic final on Saturday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 11:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 11:43 p.m.

After winning the opening set of the Gator Town Classic's title match, the St. Francis volleyball team felt once again like it had a championship trophy within its sights.

Runners-up at last year's tournament, the Class 3A finalist Wolves exited their first set Saturday against Class 5A powerhouse Jacksonville Bishop Kenny with an early 25-21 win and the opportunity to emerge unscathed from the 16-team event.

However, once the two squads switched sides on the court, the gold-division final turned into another teaching experience for third-year St. Francis coach Nick Cheronis as his team dropped three straight games and fell 3-1 to the Crusaders at Buchholz High School.

“It does nothing but help us, because we're going to play teams at least that good on the way to the state playoffs later on,” Cheronis said.

“We'll learn a lot from this, and I've always said you learn a lot more from your team after a loss than you ever do from a win.”

Following its first-set defeat, Bishop Kenny (8-0) allowed St. Francis (7-1) to retake the lead just twice and rolled to consecutive wins of 25-18, 25-13 and 25-12.

Cheronis, whose team advanced to the Class 3A state final last season, pointed to passing and service mistakes as culprits for the late collapse.

The Wolves committed seven errors while serving the ball and also had nine errors during the Crusaders' service attempts.

“In the end, it's a serving and passing game,” Cheronis said.

“They served great, and we really didn't serve well enough to get them out of what they liked to do.”

When St. Francis was able to set up its attack, senior captain Farah Rajaee proved to be an effective distributor. The setter dished 34 assists, mostly to outside hitter Allison Benton, who hit a team-high 16 kills, and fellow senior Paige Stockman, who drove in 10.

Rajaee, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, also led St. Francis with nine service points and a pair of aces.

“She's the one player where we have trouble taking her off the floor,” Cheronis said.

“When she comes off the floor, we're not quite the same team.”

The Wolves were the lone area team to go undefeated in three pool play matches Friday against Ocala Trinity Catholic, Jacksonville Providence and Eastside.

While Cheronis described the grouping as the tournament's “pool of death,” the Wolves lost only set prior to their final match.

Co-host Buchholz, which previously won three straight Gator Town Classics heading into this year, missed out on a gold division berth after falling 2-1 to Niceville on Friday. The Bobcats rallied Saturday in the silver division with consecutive wins over Jacksonville Providence and Santa Fe.

“I feel that I have a young team, and this was good experience for us,” first-year Buchholz coach Jacque Robinson-Huggins said.

“Things that fell apart on us during the (Niceville) match that did not fall on us (Saturday).”

At Santa Fe High School, Oak Hall fell to Ocala Trinity Catholic in the bronze division final and Cornerstone lost to Clearwater in the copper division.

One of four qualifiers for the gold division, St. Francis swept Niceville, 25-20, 25-14, 25-18, in Saturday morning's semifinals to advance to the championship round.

“We knew we would have to work, but I think it was a positive thing for us to have such a hard pool,” Rajaee said. “At the end of the day, we had to work harder, and we're a better team after this tournament.”

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