McKensie Herold applied to be the coach at Plant, in part because she was an assistant with the program in 2020 when the current seniors were freshmen.
Ske knew them. She trained them. And she wanted to help them finish their high school careers as state champions.
On Saturday, the Panthers completed that quest in dominating fashion, sweeping Winter Park for their second state title in the past three years and their 12th overall.
The Wildcats were ranked second in Class 7A and second overall in the state by MaxPreps. They had won 22 straight matches entering Saturday’s final, including tough five-set victories over Timber Creek in the region final and Jupiter in the state semifinals.
Plant’s resume was even more impressive.
The Panthers were ranked first in the class and the state by MaxPreps. In the region final, they exacted revenge by beating defending state champion Venice, the team that knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago.
Their lofty status was due largely to a veteran – and talented – team that returned nearly everyone.
The only thing different was the coach.
Coaching changes can be different. Players have to adjust to a new style, a new direction.
But that was something the seniors – Ellis Brandon, Bella Lee, Kylee Roberts and Quinn Morrissey – were already used to. After all, they had gone through three different coaches during their high school careers.
Herold replaced Sarah Reiss, who led the Panthers to a state title in 2021 before leaving this offseason to take over at Berkeley Prep.
The transition was smooth.
For proof, just look at their performance in the playoffs.
Plant swept four of its five matches. In the state semifinals, the Panthers routed Doral Academy 25-17, 25-19, 25-15.
The final was supposed to present more of a challenge considering it was a matchup between the top two ranked in the class – and the state.
It turned out to be a breeze.
Led by the defensive play of Lee, the setting of Sophie Dostic, the hitting of Maggie Dostic and Lara Matta and the blocking of Roberts and Samanth Karjala, among others, Plant took control early and never allowed Winter Park to make it a competitive match.
Lee, a Florida commit, has won titles at the high school – and national – level.
In the offseason, Lee helped OTVA (Orlando Tampa Volleyball Association) Tampa Aaron win the 17 Open title at AAU Nationals in Orlando.
Still, winning another state title meant more. That had to do with the community, the school pride and the togetherness of a team that stuck together despite all the changes.
Now, they completed the journey.
They can call themselves champions – again.