Trojan War: Lely-Naples volleyball rivalry taking on a life of its own

Isabel Lyon (8) celebrates with her Lely teammates after scoring a point in Thursday's match at Naples High. The host Golden Eagles rallied from a 2-1 deficit to edge the Trojans in five sets. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Quick! Who’s Naples High’s biggest rival in volleyball?

OK, OK … that was an easy one. 

Yes, Barron Collier remains squarely in the Golden Eagles’ crosshairs (and they’ll get their first crack at the Cougars this season on Wednesday night at Barron).

But don’t sleep on the Lely-Naples series. It’s kind of crept up on us since the start of the decade, and now It’s become a bit of “a thing.”

You could see it during Thursday night’s five-set thrill ride inside the Naples High School gym (which saw Lely come back from several large deficits to inexplicably hold a two-sets-to-one advantage before Naples gutted out the win, 23-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-20, 15-11). Aces, blocks, kills, diving digs — they all produced roars from the players and fans.

Afterwards, Golden Eagles coach Rich Hubbard was asked if he could pinpoint the start of the Lely-Naples rivalry. It certainly wasn’t in the previous decade during Hubbard’s first tenure as Naples coach (when he guided the Golden Eagles from 2002-11). According to results archived on MaxPreps.com, Naples swept Lely in all but one of the teams’ nine meetings from 2006-09.

“When we went on a run of five district titles (in the last decade), we played them in our district final and it wasn’t much of a match,” Hubbard said.

(If one had to guess when the rivalry was born, it may have been in 2010. According to MaxPreps, Naples defeated Lely three times that season — the first match in four sets and the next two in five — including a district semifinal. Lely broke through in 2011, winning two of three matches against Naples.)

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the Lely-Naples match

VIDEO: Watch a great play by Naples’ Emma Loden

Lely (3-3) has definitely closed the gap on Naples (3-2). Since the start of the 2015 season, Naples and Lely have played nine times — with the Golden Eagles going 6-3 — and four of those matches went to five sets.

Morgan Broxson, who’s been a Trojans captain since she joined the varsity program as a sophomore in 2016, missed Thursday’s game due to injury. She said she’ll have shed her walking boot and expects to be on the floor by Oct. 9 when the Trojans host Naples. (You get the feeling she’d cut off that walking boot to play in the match.)

Broxson was impressed with the way her teammates fought back from several large deficits Thursday — an indication of how seriously they take this rivalry with Naples.

“We came in here … we didn’t really expect to be that close with Naples. We kind of expected to maybe fall back a little bit just because they have a stacked team, and they’ve had a stacked team forever. But we totally came out and we surprised everybody, and I think that was unbelievable for us.”

“Definitely, they’re our No. 1 (rival). Always have been,” Broxson, a senior setter/hitter, said when asked about the state of the Lely-Naples series.

Naples players, back left, celebrate a key point late in their home match Thursday night against Lely. GREGG HARDY/CSI

Fair enough. But from the Golden Eagles’ perspective, the rivalry with Lely has to fall way below the one Naples shares with Barron Collier — and perhaps even a notch below Gulf Coast High School. Yes?

Not so fast, argued Hubbard and Naples senior captain Raylee Rushing.

“Those are three big matches,” Hubbard said. “No matter what, they’re all crosstown rivals right now.”

Said Rushing: “The last few years, Lely has been our most competitive game just because we know a lot of people on Lely, and so it’s kind of like one of those ‘we want to beat our friends’ kind of thing. But (over) the last few years, we’ve kind of dropped down from Barron. We’ve always been competing with Lely, so they’ve become a really big rival of ours. This has been a big game to us.”

(Note to Barron Collier: this doesn’t mean the Eagles have forgotten about you. Said Rushing: “This year, we’re coming for Barron. We think we have it this year. We’re not ready to lose to them again.”)

Rushing, who plays outside/right side for Naples, is looking forward to the Oct. 9 battle at Lely. She’s hoping the Trojans band is in the presumably packed (or, at least, nearly packed) gym that night.

“They always have a huge crowd. (The band) always hypes us up,” Rushing said before adding this one little dig at her rivals: “We love beating them in their home gym. It’s the best feeling ever.”

Chris Haire is the one person who’s experienced both sides of the Lely-Naples rivalry. She served as Lely’s head coach from 2015-17 and joined Hubbard’s staff earlier this year. Hubbard said having Haire on the Naples sideline has “added another dimension” to the rivalry.

Haire called it a “true blessing” to be part of the Naples volleyball program. And for two nights this season, she’ll take her seat on the Naples sideline and watch (with a great deal of pride) her former Trojans players continue to perform at a high level.

“There are a good number of girls on that Lely squad that I have been coaching or involved in their volleyball career, since they were in seventh and eighth grade,” said Haire, who guided the Trojans to the regional finals in 2015 and 2016 and the regional semifinals last season. “… So yes, it was an amazing feeling seeing them grow and play as well as they did tonight.”

Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.