- Jodie Wagner Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Jupiter Christian played its regional championship volleyball match against Lake Worth Christian last Thursday in front a boisterous, capacity home crowd.
Celebrating in the stands as the Eagles clinched a berth in the Class 3A state semifinals were members of the school’s football team.
They, too, became a Final Four team after beating Mount Dora Christian Academy last Friday in the quarterfinals of the independent Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs.
The Eagles’ girls continue their state title quest with a 2 p.m. contest Saturday in Naples against First Baptist Academy. The boys follow with a 7 p.m. game in Bradenton against Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School.
Football coach Jim Davis hopes to see some of the volleyball players in the bleachers as his 8-2 Eagles take the field against the 8-0 Falcons.
“We’re hoping they win, and then get in the car and drive two hours north and watch us play,” Davis said.
For the football team, Saturday’s game represents the continuation of a steady growth process that began prior to the start of the 2016 season.
The Eagles finished the previous season with just 11 players, and a 2-7 record.
But under Davis’ guidance, Jupiter Christian turned things around the following year. Twenty-two players suited up for the Eagles last season — none were seniors — and the team earned a first-round playoff berth in the SSAC playoffs.
This season, Davis added 11 more players to Jupiter Christian’s roster, including two who had previously played with the team and returned this year.
“Those kids added to the nucleus that we had returning,” said Davis, who has coached at Jupiter Christian for 14 seasons. He’s in his third year as the head coach. “We knew going into the season that we had the makings of a good football team this year.”
The Eagles have lost just two games this year — one to postseason qualifier Glades Day, and the other to Class 7A South Fort Myers — and have rolled through the SSAC postseason despite losing starting quarterback Daniel Caruso to injury three weeks ago.
Senior Reese Johnson has stepped in and played well, leading the Eagles to big postseason wins over Berean Christian and Mount Dora Christian.
Johnson and the Eagles will need to be sharp against Saint Stephens, which has won 21 consecutive games and is beating its opponents by an average of 43 points.
“We’re going to have to be at the absolute top of our game to give us the opportunity to win,” Davis said. “But we’ve got a good game plan.”
The Eagles’ volleyball team also faces a tough test Saturday against Naples-First Baptist Academy. The Lions are 20-5, and have won five of their past six matches, all but one by sweep.
Jupiter Christian coach Sam Skelton will count on his veteran players to step up for the Eagles, who trailed two sets to one against Lake Worth Christian before rallying for the win.
The Eagles carry four seniors on their roster, with three having played for the school since they were freshmen. Those seniors — hitters Emma Shaddix, Jolie Neeley and Rachel Bryan, and libero Morgan Boyd — along with a talented group of underclassmen, are aiming to bring home Jupiter Christian’s first state title in girls volleyball.
“Our battle is going to be preparing ourselves,” Skelton said. “I really believe in these girls. When they’re on their game, we can match up with anybody.”