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The Pasco County Volleyball Player of the Week

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DS Brooke Ashkenase, So., Wesley Chapel

As a freshman last season, Brooke Ashkenase made a name for herself by becoming a defensive specialist. She finished with 233 digs and helped the Wildcats to their first winning season in more than a decade. 

This season, Ashkenazi has improved as a defender, so much so she now is in the record books. 

Two weeks ago, she recorded 25 digs in a win over Cypress Creek in the Class 5A, District 7 tournament to add to her single-season school record of 331 digs. Better still, she has helped Wesley Chapel reach the region semifinals for just the third time.

Fans took notice. Ashkenase received 49 percent of the votes (603) in the Pasco County volleyball player of the week poll to beat out Land O’ Lakes Catie Grimes, who had 32 percent (386 votes).  

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Volleyball: Plant rallies to win 7A state title

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Sarah Reiss (formerly Kirkwood) won three state titles (2001-03) as a player at Plant. 

On Thursday, she had a chance to win another one, this time as the coach of her alma mater. 

The Panthers, who had been to the state semifinals, each of the past three seasons, took the next step by reaching the final for the first time since 2018. Plant also was trying to win its first state title since 2010. 

The program achieved its goal the hard way, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to win the Class 7A title in five sets over Windermere. 

It was the 11th title in school history, which ranks fourth overall in state history. 

Most of the players were already used to winning titles at the club level. Lily Frierson, Reese Friar and Sophia Kotsovolos were all on the OTVA team that won an AAU national title this offseason.

But their high school seasons came up short of winning what had been an elusive title. 

This time, they ended years of frustration on volleyball’s biggest stage. 

Throughout the postseason, the Panthers were able to cruise. They dropped just one set in their first four playoff matches. On Thursday, they were tested against Windermere, a program that had never made it past the region semifinals before this season. 

After winning the first set in the title match, Plant dropped the next two. But there was no panic. The Panthers simply bore down, dominating the fourth set to give them much-needed momentum heading into the fifth and final set. 

In the end, their postseason experience paid off with a 23-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-13, 15-9 victory.  Jennifer Rayburn had 52 assists and 11 digs. Lily Frierson finished with 23 digs and 17 kills. Maggie Dostic ended up with 21 kills and 14 digs. Reese Friar totaled 15 kills and five blocks. And Bella Lee recorded 16 digs.

Plant joined Calvary Christian as the two bay area champions. The Warriors won the 3A title, their first in school history. 

Elite company

Hillsborough County has been dominant in volleyball. The proof is in the number of state titles. Three schools — Tampa Prep, Berkeley Prep and Plant — were already ranked among the top four in the state in titles won. The Panthers added another one to their total on Thursday.

SchoolTitles wonYears won
Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons201975-79, 1984-89, 1992-96, 1998, 2006, 2010, 2015
Berkeley Prep161986, 1988-93, 1995 (3A), 1997-99, 2003, 2009-11, 2017
Tampa Prep 151980-85 , 1987 , 1991-92, 1994, 1996-98, 2001, 2004
Plant 111975-76, 2001-03, 2006-10, 2021
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Volleyball: Calvary Christian sweeps its way to first state title

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Calvary Christian played a schedule that was filled with challenging matches throughout the season. 

That was by design. 

The Warriors wanted to be tested as much as possible to prepare for a potential state title run. 

The payoff came in the postseason. Calvary Christian knocked off a defending state finalist (Bishop McLaughlin) in the region semifinals, a nationally ranked team (Tampa Prep) in the region final and the defending state champion (Ocala Trinity Catholic) in the state semifinals. 

That brutal stretch helped the Warriors reach the state championship match for the first time in school history. 

So when Calvary Christian faced nationally ranked Miami Westminster Christian in Thursday’s Class 3A final, the players were hardly fazed by the lofty status of the opposition. 

Westminster Christian was ranked second in the classification, fourth overall in the state and seventh nationally by MaxPreps. 

No matter. 

Once again, Calvary Christian beat another formidable opponent, this time via sweep for their first state title. 

It was a team effort. Taylor Parks had 40 assists and eight digs. Lauren Cairo finished with 16 digs and 13 kills. Noelle Walsh ended up with 15 kills and 10 digs. And Ava Bonin recorded 14 digs.

Their performance help Calvary Christian became the sixth school from Pinellas County to win a state title in volleyball and the first since 2018 when Shorecrest won in 4A. 

To get an idea of just impressive Calvary Christian’s postseason run was, consider that the Warriors beat three teams ranked among the top 35 in the country. Two came via sweeps.

It was quite a leap for a program that had never made it past the region final before. 

The were a few bumps. Calvary Christian was swept once by Plant and lost three times to Berkeley Prep during the regular season. After that last loss to the Buccaneers, Calvary Christian gained the confidence that it can not only compete with the best but also win. 

That was the turning point. Calvary Christian went to win its final 17 matches of the season, culminating with its first state title. 

Pinellas County state volleyball titles

Calvary Christian became the sixth school from Pinellas County to win a state title in volleyball. Here is the list.

SchoolYear(s) won title
Calvary Christian2021
Clearwater1997, 2000
Clearwater Central Catholic1981, 1985, 2014
East Lake2010, 2011
Shorecrest2018
Tarpon Springs 1991
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Volleyball: Class 7A final breakdown – Nov. 18

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Volleyball state finals

All matches at the Suncoast Credit Union Arena  in Fort Myers.  Admission is $9 in advance, $12 on the day of the event via GoFan. Parking is $10.

Class 7A

Plant (25-5) vs. Windermere (27-3), 6 p.m. today

How they got here: Plant d. Newsome 3-0, d. Steinbrenner 3-1, d. Venice 3-0, d. Doral Academy 3-0. Windermere d. Jacksonville Mandarin 3-0, d. DeLand 3-0, d. Lake Brantley 3-0, d. Jupiter 3-0. 

Stat leaders

CategoryPlant Windemere
KillsLily Frierson, 267Ana Bleeker, 224
BlocksMackenzie Nichols, 51Keondreya Granberry, 35
AcesMaggie Dostic, 58Ana Bleeker, 29
DigsSophia Kotsovolos, 498Reese Burry, 178
AssistsJennifer Rayburn, 680Isabel Mulita, 495

Outlook: Plant went through some changes this season. Vanja Todorovic, who led the program to the state semifinals each of the past three seasons, stepped down. Sarah Reiss (formerly Kirkwood), who starred at Plant before going on to play at Virginia, returned to her alma mater to take over the program. Reiss is used to winning state titles. She won three straight (2001-03) as a player with the Panthers and guided the Spence School (Manhattan, NY) to a state title in 2013. Her sister, Emily, who was part of two state championship teams at Plant, joined the Panthers’ staff as an assistant. The players also are used to winning titles, particularly at the club level. Lily Frierson, Reese Friar and Sophia Kotsovolos were all on the OTVA team that won an AAU national title this offseason. Now, Plant has taken the next step. The Panthers are in the championship match for the first time since 2018 and are trying to win their first title since 2010.  They were dominant in reaching this stage, dropping just one set in their four playoff matches. To win it all, Plant has to get past a tough opponent. Windermere is ranked third in the class and 14th overall in the state according to MaxPreps. The Wolverines, who had never made it past the region semifinals before this season, are playing for their first state title.

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