The Celebration boys volleyball team will need two district tournament wins to even attempt to re-create its march to the state championship game.
The Storm were 27-2 on the year, and lost to an undefeated Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons team that ended up ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps in Florida’s single-class system for boys volleyball. Celebration was No. 2, and among the top 50 nationally.
That team had a superstar, Puerto Rican national team member Johansen Negron, and a cast of role players.
This year, with the team sitting at 20-2 after tough four-set wins over gritty Winter Springs and Windermere teams earlier this week, Coach Pedro Davila said the team has many weapons, and they play in a fundamental system.
“This year we’re able to control the ball and be more creative offensive and defensively,” he said. “We rely on everybody, not just one guy now, and the guys who are back from last year are working for it a little more.”
The Storm were ranked second in District 3, and will host Venice in a district semifinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Tampa HEAT and Berkley Prep are in the other semifinal, and Celebration anticipates a rematch with Tampa HEAT, who beat the Storm in five sets — after the Storm won the first two — which would be in Tampa on Thursday.
“Any given day a team can rise up, and that’s what happened when we played them (on April 4),” Davila said. “It wasn’t our best match yet we still took them to five games. “We anticipate the rematch.”
The Storm currently sit at No. 4 in Florida and No. 68 nationally, according to MaxPreps. Tampa HEAT is No. 6 in Florida; Venice is No. 8. Seventeen of the top 18 teams in the national rankings are from California.
If the Storm win the district — the only way to get into the playoffs, unlike other sports where district champs and runners-up advance — they’ll travel to the winner of Orlando-based District 4, which would likely be Apopka, Bishop Moore or Dr. Phillips, who Celebration defeated in that round last year at home last year on the way to the regional playoffs and eventually the state tournament.
Outside hitters Alejandro Hernandez, Bruno Araujo and Imanol Davila-Morales have led the Storm’s hitting attack this year, but it’s come from plenty other players as well. Carlos Gabriel Mercado can use his 6-5 frame to hit, block or defend.
“They’re doing what’s expected. The matches we lost, we got out of system,” Davila said. This is a great team. Johansen was a phenom, but this team is as good as last year’s. Those guys got a taste (of playing for a state championship) and are now aware they can win it and have been working harder. They’re eager to go out and compete.”
Players on this team have also garner national attention and college scholarships. Hernandez and setter Christopher Rivera-Alamo have been named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American Watch List. Storm volleyball is only one of three high schools in the nation to have multiple student-athletes on the list, Davila said.
Additionally, Hernandez (Barton College in North Carolina), Rivera-Alamo (Trine University in Indiana) and Andres Rashid.