By Kyle LoJacono
Madison Seuzeneau said the Steinbrenner volleyball team was relaxed before its Class 7A regional quarterfinals contest Oct. 31.
The Warriors (18-8) were so calm that they played a laughter-filled game of tag while waiting for St. Petersburg to arrive at their gym. Steinbrenner swept the Green Devils (20-9) 25-16, 25-22, 25-19 to advance to the semifinals for the third straight year after the less-than-conventional warm up.
“We didn’t think it was going to be this easy because it’s hard to win these regional games,” said Seuzeneau, a senior outside hitter. “We tried to stay relaxed and not think about the fact that we’ve made it past this round the last two years.”
The Warriors rode their defense to the straight-set victory thanks in part to junior Casey McLean.
The junior, who racked up 14 digs and three aces, moved from starting setter to defense specialist (DS) halfway through the year to bolster the Warriors’ back row.
It also allowed the squad to move from the 6-2 rotation, which uses two setters, to allow for other substitutions while giving its hitters consistency from one setter — sophomore Brooke Royals (23 assists).
“When you use two different setters you get different sets and different heights on it,” McLean said. “Our hitters needed to have one type of set, so I got moved to DS because Brooke’s sets were probably better attuned for our hitters, and then I could help with defense.”
First-year Steinbrenner coach Laura Stegenga added, “She’s such a leader, and she needs to be on the court. It’s just a matter of the dynamic of our team and where we could use her the most. Truthfully, we really need more help on our back row. … Tonight picking up all those tips, keeping the ball alive and her energy on the court helps as well.”
McLean had no experience at DS before this season, but said the spot is growing on her.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction with digging up someone’s all-out hit and turning it into offense,” McLean said.
Adding to the back row was senior libero Natalia Campos (15 digs), junior outside hitter Rachel Mathison (eight digs) and Seuzeneau (six digs).
Steinbrenner also used the block as a weapon. Four rejections came from sophomore middle hitter Lauren Heldt (six kills), one of which came on the match’s final point.
Heldt combined with junior rightside hitter Madison Powell on two blocks in the third set and also altered several Green Devils attacks.
“(Powell) talks to me the entire time and helps me get to the right spot,” Heldt said. “We’re moving and then we’re up at the right times. She just jumps through the roof.”
Stegenga was quick to point out that the Warriors had a height advantage, but added it was good to see blocks being executed.
“We’re just going to run into bigger hitters, but we were closing on our block really well,” Stegenga said.
St. Petersburg stayed with Steinbrenner early in the first, taking a 5-4 lead, but the Warriors ran away with the set from there.
The Warriors picked up where they left off in the second, jumping out to leads of 11-5 and 21-14. The Green Devils answered with a 6-0 run, closing the score to 21-20 and forcing Stegenga to take a timeout.
“The entire timeout was about communication, and I had them tell me what’s wrong,” Stegenga said. “They said, ‘We’re not talking to each other.’ We asked them why, they talked about it and they went back on the court and picked it up a little bit, but definitely something we need to improve on going into the semifinals.”
Steinbrenner took the first three points after the timeout with kills from Heldt, Seuzeneau and Mathison to help close the second.
The Warriors stayed hot in the third by taking 12 of the first 15 points and rode the momentum to sealing the match.
Mathison and Seuzeneau, who had 10 and nine kills, respectively, led the offense.
Steinbrenner plays at Clearwater Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. The Warriors have never advanced beyond the regional semifinals, and are matched up against the squad that eliminated them last season in five sets.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker