Regardless of the sport, it’s often an arduous and sometimes long process for a new school to reach a championship level. Other than an unofficial lacrosse championship last year (at least four of Osceola’s county’s eight public schools must participate for it to be considered official), Tohopekaliga – which opened in 2018—had never won an Orange Belt Conference team championship.
That changed on Tuesday night, as its girls’ volleyball team defeated St. Cloud in straight sets (25-13, 25-13, 25-16) to clinch the school’s first OBC Championship in school history. The match capped a dominating performance for Lady Tigers as they went to 8-0 on the season and finished the conference portion of their schedule with a 7-0 record.
“Our nine seniors have been together for four years and I’m so happy that they were the first team from our school to win an official conference championship.” Head Coach Eric Capestany said. “They are seeing the results of years and years of dedication and hard work and I’m so proud of all of them.”
Listed fifth in the latest state Class 7A rankings, Tohopekaliga was never really challenged in the match by St. Cloud’s young team. In the first set, they jumped out to a quick 8-1 lead and were never allowed the Bulldogs to get closer than five points in the game.
It was more of the same in game two. Leading 5-4, Toho went on an 11-1 run to pull ahead 16-5. Sophomore Danna Aguilera had four big kills in the game to pace the Tigers offense. St. Cloud did show some grit in the final set, keeping the game close at 15-11. But the Tigers once again went on a big run, scoring eight of the next 12 points to take control.
Aguilera led all Toho players with eight kills, Paige Patterson added seven kills and four blocks, and Alexa Ortega had five kills. Senior Arianna Warner had 29 assists in the match; while sophomore Naya Moore checked in with 16 assists in limited play. Nicole Abril had 10 digs and as a team, the Tigers had six aces.
In taking the OBC title, Toho dominated in its seven conference wins – going 21-1 in individual games and losing just that one set to Osceola back on Aug. 24.
With seven matches remaining, the question now becomes is an undefeated regular season possible for the Tigers? Five of those seven remaining contests will come against county opposition that the Tigers have already defeated (only the first match of the year counted in the OBC Standings), leaving Freedom and Lake Nona as the lone first-time opponents on Tohopekaliga’s 2021 schedule.
“Being a Miami Dolphins fan, it’s hard not to think about the possibility of a perfect regular season,” Capestany joked. “But seriously our strength this year has been our ability to stay focused and take it one match at a time, there’s an awful lot of volleyball left to be played. These kids know that.”
Freedom, slated for Sept. 24, is currently 2-5 on the year. The biggest obstacle left on the Tigers schedule may be Lake Nona, who Tohopekaliga will host this Friday night at 7 p.m. Lake Nona is 6-3 and is currently ranked 14th in the state in Class 7A. The only common opponent for each team has been Celebration, a squad that both teams defeated in straight sets earlier in the season.
A traditional state power, Lake Nona went 20-4 last year – losing in the regional semifinals and although the Lions lost nine seniors off that team, Capastany expects a tough match. “They are one of those excellent programs that just seem to reload every year. They lost a lot of talent to graduation but they are so well-coached. We have that match at home and it’s going to be Lions versus Tigers, it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”