Sweep dreams: Cougars’ five-year itch goes away with straight-set win over Sharks

The Barron Collier Cougars celebrate their straight-set home victory over the Gulf Coast Sharks on Tuesday night. OLIVIA MEANS/SPECIAL TO CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Let’s not overstate it. The Barron Collier High School volleyball team has bigger fish to fry than arch-rival Gulf Coast (like all those yet-to-be-determined playoff teams that will stand between the Cougars and a state title).

Right, Jennifer Coxwell?

“Our main goal is just to beat Gulf Coast,” Coxwell, a senior hitter, said Tuesday night after her Cougars swept the Sharks to end years of frustration in Collier County’s fiercest (albeit one-sided) rivalry. “So finally winning and shutting them down and shutting their crowd down … their crowd ended up leaving after the first or second set … it was really good to shut down their negativity and finally win after five years and 10 games of fighting for it.”

OK, Jennifer, we stand corrected.

(Coxwell later said the Cougars’ first goal was to beat Gulf Coast, and the second was to return to states. Barron Collier, which has reached the state semifinals the last two years, was state runner-up in 2017.)

Relief, pride and sheer joy were easily detected as the Cougars celebrated their 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 victory that gave them a 16-9 record to conclude the regular season.

“What. A. Game!” Those were the words of Barron Collier junior libero Olivia D’Agostino, who recorded 30 digs in the match. “That was fun. I’m happy that we did it. I knew we could.”

Olivia D’Agostino and Megan Welling sense victory against Gulf Coast. OLIVIA MEANS/SPECIAL TO CSI

Coxwell, the senior who’s played the most matches against Gulf Coast of anyone on this Barron Collier squad, said a few former Barron players were in attendance to see the result that eluded the Cougars since September of 2013. This victory was as much for them as the current group of Cougars.

“I think even though that they’re not on the team anymore, their main goal for us still was to beat Gulf Coast,” said Coxwell, who had six kills and delivered a key block late in the third set to help seal the deal.

Said D’Agostino: “We’ve heard from a lot of the past players, a lot of the seniors (from last year’s team). It was really fun to hear from them. They were very encouraging, and we just wanted to give 110 percent out on the court, and we brought it tonight.”

Barron has been bringing it for several weeks now. It’s won nine straight matches — the last eight all coming via sweep. None, though, were as sweet as this one, as the Cougars finally got the huge monkey off their back.

Barron Collier’s first-year head coach, Yamil Del Valle, saw his players’ dejection after the Sharks beat them in four sets on Aug. 28 at Gulf Coast High School. In preparing for Tuesday’s match, the message to his players was simple: Keep doing what you’re doing … and have fun.

Setter Hope Casella, center, throws up a pass for Barron Collier teammate Jennifer Coxwell (12) during Tuesday’s match against Gulf Coast. OLIVIA MEANS/SPECIAL TO CSI

“For the girls, for the school and for the program, this game always has been a special thing and a big thing. … But my plan was the same,” said Del Valle, who received a post-match embrace from an exuberant D’Agostino. “I just told the girls like I’ve been saying the last (few) games, we can beat everybody on the other side if we play together. And that’s what we’ve been doing now that everybody’s healthy; we’ve been playing together and having fun.”

Besides Coxwell and D’Agostino, Barron Collier was led by Hannah Alfes (12 kills, five blocks, two aces and four digs), Skylar English (12 kills, 10 digs and 15 assists) and Hope Casella (15 assists and five digs).

Next up for the Cougars: the Class 7A-District 12 tournament held next week at Golden Gate High School. Top-seeded Barron Collier, which went through district unbeaten, will play the host Titans on Tuesday night at 7. Second-seeded Naples and third-seeded Palmetto Ridge will face off at 5 p.m.

SHARKS FIND CHOPPY WATERS

Tuesday’s loss didn’t sit well with Gulf Coast coach Christy Wright, and it wasn’t because the Sharks’ long reign over Barron came to an end. Rather, she said, it was her team’s performance that bothered her, particularly its execution on offense.

Gulf Coast’s Izzy Gentile, bottom right, and Isabella Velazquez, bottom left, both hit the floor to keep a point alive during Tuesday’s match at Barron Collier. OLIVIA MEANS/SPECIAL TO CSI

“We just didn’t play well,” said Wright, who saw her team lose leads in the latter portions of the second and third sets. “They played better than us. That’s it. We’ve been struggling with our offense all year — up and down, up and down. When it’s down, we struggle.”

The Sharks (17-7) played Tuesday with one of their key players, senior Julia Lang, sidelined due to injury. Filling in for Lang was freshman Reese Tremitiere, who recorded six kills and a block.

“She’s learning the position,” Wright said of Tremitiere. “She’s getting better; she’s getting there. She’s going to be a good player.”

Cydney Harms and Sydney Lawhon had 10 and eight kills, respectively, to lead the Gulf Coast attack. They were often set up by Carly Richards, who recorded 29 assists.

Defensively, the Sharks were led by Izzy Gentile (19 digs), Ashley Carter (13 digs) and Grace Vernon (two blocks). 

Asked how she thinks her team will respond with one match left in its regular season (Thursday at home against Naples), Wright responded, “I think we’re good. … It’s been a long time since we’ve lost this match. These girls don’t know how to lose this match; they don’t know how to lose to Barron. So we have to make an adjustment; we have to make a mental adjustment.

“(After the match) I said, ‘Hey, be upset tonight, you can be mad; I’m mad. It’s fine. But tomorrow we need to come back in and we need to grow from it and not come back in and do the same things.’”

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