There are 16 teams remaining in the hunt for the state high school boys volleyball title — each of the champions of the 16 districts across the state in the sport’s single class. That’s all.
For the second year in a row, Celebration is one of them.
A year ago, the Storm were one of the last two teams standing, reaching the state championship before falling to undefeated Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons in a clash of nationally-ranked squads. Celebration ended the year 27-2 and ranked No. 43 in the nation after playing three teams in the state tournament ranked in the top 10 in Florida and in the top 150 nationally.
Now it’s time to do it again.
The Storm, coached by Pedro Davila, enters this year’s postseason ranked fourth in the state and 33rd nationally. They will play at District 4 champion Apopka (18-6, No. 12 in the state, No. 150 nationally) on Friday, in a regional playoff game that serves as a play-in game to the state tournament, held May 10-11 at Boca Raton Community High School.
That all became possible when the Storm went on the road last week a and defeated Tampa HEAT in a 25-22, 25-23, 25-20 match that sounded closer than it was, Coach Pedro Davila said.
"We knew that if we took care of what we do and stayed within our game plan that it wouldn't be any harder than the semifinal game (Venice, on Tuesday)," he said. "We produced and we executed and we’re back to where we want to be with a chance to win a state title.”
Alejandro Hernandez had 16 kills, 5 digs and two aces, and Imanol Davila-Morales added 27 digs.
Tampa HEAT gave Celebration one of their two regular-season losses, adding a little bit of revenge factor to that District 3 championship game. Those two also met in last year’s district finals with the same result.
Should Celebration win at Apopka on Friday, the Storm will get a stern opener in Boca Raton on May 10 at 5:30 p.m. — the winner of No. 7 Archbishop McCarthy and No. 18 Cardinal Gibbons. No. 1 Freedom (No. 18 nationally) could come out of a section of the bracket where the lowest ranked team in the state is No. 15 and be waiting in the following morning’s state semifinal match.
Last year, the Storm ran much of its offense through Johansen Negron, a member of the Puerto Rican national team program. But this year, while U.S. national program product Alejandro Hernandez is the kills leader, averaging over 15 per match, the talent is there to spread the ball around.
“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.”
Bruno Araujo also returned from last year’s deep state run and, with a chance to flourish, is averaging over 10 kills per match. The offense is running through setters Christopher Rivera and Cristobal Palma.
In the defensive front, Carlos Gabriel Mercado is averaging about 2.5 blocks per match. Davila-Morales is the team’s digs leader (17.3 per match).
During its 2019 run, the Storm have dropped just 10 sets, the set number they lost all last season, including the state tournament run.