By:  J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola

Celebration is one win away from returning to the boys’ volleyball State Championship Tournament, and they will get a chance to get there by playing a regional final at home.

The second-seeded Storm earned the trip to the Region 3 Final with an impressive 25-18, 25-14, 25-20 straight-set victory over Dr. Phillips during Friday night’s semifinal game.  They will get to play that regional final at home, as fourth-seeded Horizon upset top-seeded Tampa Bay HEAT, by a 25-22, 25-23, 25-17 score.  The Horizon-Celebration game will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 16) at Storm Gymnasium.   

At stake for the winner will be a trip to the State Championships on May 19-20 at Polk State College in Winter Haven.  Boys’ Volleyball is a single classification sport in Florida, with eight regional champions advancing.  The winner will play the victor of the King’s Academy vs. Park Vista game at 1 p.m. on the May 19 in a state quarterfinal game.

Despite the dominating performance in the Dr. Phillips win, Storm coach Pedro Davila was not overly excited with his team’s performance. “We played just okay and we did take care of our business, but we were definitely lacking some intensity.  It was almost like we were going through the motions at times” Davila said about his team.  “Part of it may have been due to the fact that Dr.  Phillips did not play particularly well tonight, but I just didn’t feel like we had any fire in us until the third set.”

Whether they played up to his standards or not, one would be hard-pressed to find too much fault in the Celebration’s overall performance. The Storm broke on top in the first game with a quick 6-1 lead, but Dr. Phillips rallied back to an 11-11 tie.  From that point on, however, it pretty much was all Celebration.  Diego Rivera came up with several smart plays at the net and the Storm took advantage of some Dr. Phillips errors to score seven of the final nine points of the set for the 25-18 win 

The second set remained close early before senior captain Darion Graham took control.  Trailing 3-2, Graham’s thunderous spike from the left side tied the game and he then proceeded to place three consecutive hard serves deep into the Panthers’ backcourt – none of which made it back over the net as the Storm moved out to a 6-3 lead.

“We consider our serves to be our first attack,” Davila said.  “If we get an ace, it’s great but you don’t need an ace for the serve to be effective.  When we serve and the opponent needs two touches just keep the ball off the floor, they can’t amount an attack from that position.  That’s what makes Darion’s serves so effective.”

Celebration would maintain the lead in the second game, although the Panthers stayed within striking distance at 13-10. But at that point, the Storm would go on a dominating 8-0 run to push the lead out to 21-10 as they would eventually cruise to the seven-point win and a two game to zero lead.

The Panthers were able to make the final set entertaining.    

The teams traded points throughout most of the set, with no team getting more than a two-point advantage.  The key sequence came with the score tied 17-17, when Celebration’s Daniel Santiago recorded a kill and Diego Rivera came up with a block at the net after a long rally to give the Storm a 19-17 advantage.   The teams then traded points but Rivera had three kills and a big ace down the stretch as the Storm pulled away for the win.

Other than a 4-0 run early in the first set, the Panthers were not able to string together more than two consecutive points for the rest of the match.

Celebration, winners of seven straight, moved to 20-9 on the season.  The Storm got big games from Graham; who had 14 kills; as well as from Victor Binet (8 kills and a block), and Oliver Binet, who added five kills and three aces.   

With the win, Celebration will now attempt to add a Regional championship to the District and Orange Belt Conference titles they captured last month.  “We’re pleased to get that regional final at home,” Davila added.  “Hopefully we’ll come out at the start of the match with the same intensity that we had in the final set tonight.”