PIERSON — Competing in the all-rural Class 1A for the first time in five years, Taylor is back among its volleyball elite.
Brittany Cowart is tied for the game with 16 decisive wins and the Wildcats (22-3) knocked out defending runner-up Newberry in straight sets on Saturday afternoon, booking a date with Bell or Dixie County on next weekend in the Final Four.
“It’s obviously an incredible group of young girls who have given their all on the pitch,” said head coach Tanya Ramos, in her 21st year in charge.
“They’re probably the most deserving group I’ve been around. They have a lot of excitement. They’re a fun group to coach.”
It’s the fourth regional title in the program’s history, the first since 2014, when Taylor reached the 1A championship match – a straight-set loss to Sneads. In the past two Florida High School Athletic Association classification cycles, the Wildcats have hovered between 5A and 3A.
The party started, in earnest, three hours before the game. Taylor’s girls danced around the gym to relax and unwind in time for their biggest game yet.
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Cowart said the most popular song on the Wildcats’ playlist was, deservedly, DJ Khaled’s classic “All I Do Is Win.” The team extended its 12-game winning streak.
The Wildcats set the tone early by scoring the game’s first six points. Cowart smashed three kills and Amya Ramos added pocket aces, but Newberry fought back after an early timeout. Abby Pace slipped pocket aces as the Panthers (18-11) took a 19-15 lead.
The Wildcats kicked into high gear from there, scoring 10 of the last 11 points to snatch the first set and keep the momentum going at home.
“We had to reset and continue,” Ramos said. “A mistake here, a mistake there; we have to move on. The mindset is a big thing for us.”
As it turned out, the last point was the hardest for the Wildcats to score. Newberry fought off five straight match points to shoot within 24-23 in the third. Faith Wilson made it a two-pointer with the last of her 16 kills.
Cowart watched from the bench, injuring his left elbow while diving for a search moments earlier. The pain subsided and wasn’t the first thing she thought of when asked about it.
“I ripped my jersey,” she said, pointing to a small hole in the tip of her elbow. “That was good. I landed on my funny bone.”
The St. Johns River State pledge was ready to return if needed, but Newberry couldn’t quite close the gap. Alexis Boyd’s serve hit the net, giving the Wildcats the deciding point.
For Newberry, Pace had six kills and 23 assists to go along with his pair of aces. Senior Libero Kirsten Thomas recorded 24 digs.
Karen Kelly had eight kills for the Wildcats, while sisters Ava and Amya Ramos – daughters of the longtime Wildcats boss – produced 21 assists and 19 digs respectively.