Community School of Naples players celebrate a key point as they rally from a 24-16 deficit to win the first set from Bishop Verot during Thursday night's match at CSN. GREGG HARDY/CSI
It only seemed like Brielle Bellamy was standing on an island inside the Community School of Naples gym Thursday night.
The Seahawks trailed 24-16 in the first set to Bishop Verot — the Fort Myers-based volleyball factory that’s claimed all but one district championship over the last 20 years. It was a matchup CSN’s players had been looking forward to since last year’s Class 5A-District 10 championship.
“We felt like we had a lot to prove tonight. We’ve never beaten them before, so we wanted that more than anything,” Bellamy said after the Seahawks picked up that landmark victory over the Vikings — in straight sets, no less.
The triumph was far from easy.
Best-case scenario (those in attendance must have been thinking) as Bellamy stepped to the service line? The Seahawks stage a mini-rally and make the Vikings sweat out a first-set victory.
Bellamy, though, didn’t see herself alone on an island. With the help of her teammates, the junior outside hitter rattled off eight straight service points to knot the first set at 24-all.
“I think I just knew that as long as I got my serves in, my team would do the rest,” said Bellamy, who mixed in some aces during the epic comeback. “… I wasn’t really worried about hitting it as hard as I can and making errors off of that; I was just trying to get it in so if it did come over, we’d get a kill off of it.”
And when Bellamy finally was off the mark (sending her ninth serve out of bounds on the left side), her teammates were there to promptly answer with a side out. Freshman setter Caroline Costa — who later closed out the match with an ace — capped the rally with a couple service points to send CSN’s pajama-clad student section into a frenzy. (More on that at the end of this report.)
“(The Vikings) called a timeout when we got a couple points in (during the rally),” Seahawks coach Alicia MacIntyre said, “and we just told the girls, ‘This is a game of mistakes. You take care of your side and let them make the errors. You keep digging deep, you keep digging the ball, and it’s going to come out on your side.’ Now, every coach says that, but you never know if the girls are really going to buy into that, and they really did.”
More pajama pandemonium ensued when freshman Savannah Baker delivered an ace to give CSN another 27-25 victory in a nip-and-tuck second set.
The Seahawks ended pajama-palooza in style by completing the sweep. It wasn’t easy, though, as the Vikings stormed back from a 13-8 deficit to take a 16-14 lead. A great effort by freshman Elly Beshears — who kept an ensuing point alive while running toward the bleachers — and a big-time block by senior standout Laura Zuloaga helped CSN to gather itself en route to a 25-20 triumph.
“This is a huge game for us,” Costa said. “We look forward to playing Bishop Verot every year. The two games that we get against them, we treasure those games. We work so hard in practice for these games.”
CSN, which has raced out to a 5-1 start this season, visits Bishop Verot on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The Vikings, who lost their season opener at Cardinal Mooney, fell to 0-2.
The Seahawks’ hot start has come without the services of one of their top hitters, injured freshman Cassidy Bloom. MacIntyre hopes to have her back in the coming weeks.
MacIntyre was asked if last year’s district title match defeat gave the Seahawks any extra incentive Thursday night. The top-seeded Vikings won the 5A-10 crown on CSN’s home floor, but needed a fifth set to do so after winning the first two.
“Going into the third set, we actually talked about that,” MacIntyre said. “We said we’ve been in that position where we were down two sets to none and came back and took it to five, and we don’t want to let that happen to us, so this is where we start playing.
“Every time we play them, it’s going to be a big game because that’s our rival. Whether it’s a hunger from last year or not, I can’t say. But any time we step on the floor with them — that’s a great team — we have to play or best. We just want to go into the next game knowing we’ve got to play a little bit better.”
OK, so you may have read earlier that it was Pajama Night at Community School of Naples.
Themes are nothing new to high school sporting events. On Tuesday night, Gulf Coast High School’s student body wore army fatigues to their rivalry match with Barron Collier.
Nonetheless, Thursday night’s match afforded CSN’s players — nearly all of whom are freshmen — a chance to bond with their fellow students. Between the uniformed Seahawks and the mass of students in evening wear, it was nearly impossible to find anyone in street clothes.
Seeking a strong turnout and a homecourt edge against the Vikings, Costa said CSN’s players were promoting the Verot match since school started.
“Last year we were in eighth grade, and we didn’t have much of a connection to the school, but now we’re in high school and we promote (our matches) more,” Costa said. “A lot of people want to come to (the big matches), and they want to support (us) because it’s fun and it’s not just a regular old game.”
It was clear the Seahawks fed off the crowd’s energy. Bellamy said it was a priority for the players to give their fellow students a reason to cut loose.
“It’s kind of on us to keep it exciting, keep it energized (and) make sure we’re talking a lot so they talk a lot, and it just goes back and forth,” Bellamy said.
It was Pajama Night at Community School of Naples on Thursday night, and no one was in danger of falling asleep.
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.