- Jodie Wagner Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The road to Thursday’s Class 4A state championship game hasn’t been an easy one for the Benjamin girls volleyball team.
The Buccaneers, who face Tampa-Carrollwood Day at 4 p.m. at the University of North Florida, have weathered a hurricane, a car accident and the flu this season.
Some Benjamin players missed significant playing time as a result.
“Our senior libero, Lauren Lindahl, didn’t return to action until the week before the district tournament,” coach Alex Clarke said. “(Middle) Emma Lange was out for over a week right after the hurricane. Having them out was tough on the entire team.”
But the players who filled in for Lindahl — who was injured in a minor traffic accident — and Lange — who was slowed by the flu — did a tremendous job, Clarke said, and the Bucs (16-3) barely missed a step.
Since falling to King’s Academy on Sept. 19, Benjamin won 11 of its next 12 matches — all but three by sweep. Their one loss during that span was to perennial power Jensen Beach, which went on to earn a berth in the Class 7A state semifinals.
Clarke attributes her team’s success to leadership — the Bucs have five seniors on their roster — as well as a tough schedule.
In addition to playing King’s Academy and Jensen Beach this year, Benjamin also scheduled Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Oxbridge Academy and Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest.
The Bucs handed the Gators their only loss of the season — Palm Beach Gardens (26-1) plays for the Class 9A state title Saturday — while their three losses have come to teams who finished a combined 61-10.
“We have learned from every single one of those losses,” Clarke said. “We had big wins this year against Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens. The girls know what it takes to be successful in the end.”
But they have their work cut out for them against Carrollwood Day (24-2), which has won 21 consecutive matches since a pair of losses to powerhouses Tampa-Berkeley Prep and Orlando-Bishop Moore in September. Both of those schools are playing for state championships this week.
Clarke expects the Patriots will be one of the toughest teams the Bucs have faced this season.
“Carrollwood Day has two big hitters with over 300 kills apiece on the season, and we will focus on stopping those hitters with a big block and tough defense,” Clarke said. “We are a very different team, but we have three practices to make sure we are ready to give it our all.”
Leading the way for Benjamin in the state championship match will be the Blain sisters — Katy and Ellie — who have combined for 412 kills this season. Setter Sierra Barron (682 assists), Lindahl (158 digs) and Lange also will be counted on to carry the Bucs.
“The girls know what it takes to be successful,” Clarke said.