VOLLEYBALL: Riverview ends long drought vs. Venice with 3-1 victory


Before Tuesay night, the last time the Rams defeated the Indians was Oct. 13, 2016


The Riverview High volleyball team had plenty of reasons for wanting to defeat Venice High Tuesday night.

Riverview coach Nickie Halbert, a former Venice High player, had never beaten the Indians.

And “we were sick of getting beat by Venice,” Halbert said.

After dropping the first set, the Rams came roaring back taking three straight to close out a 3-1 victory over Venice 21-25, 26-24, 25-21, 25-18 at the RHS Gymnasium.

“We’ve had other close matches early on in the season we weren’t able to finish,” Halbert said. “This win was really important for us tonight.”

Most notably was a 3-2 loss to defending state runner-up Cardinal Mooney in a match Riverview led 2-0. The Rams also took the first set against Fort Myers before dropping the next three.

“We’ve been really trying to find ourselves as a team,” Halbert said. “Obviously, a huge win like that at home is going to do nothing but help that.”

In a match that was scheduled to be played at Venice High’s Teepee before being moved because the Indians scheduled an open house at their school, Venice came back from an early deficit to win Game 1.

Up 21-20, a kill and a block by Sadie Kluner, a kill by Paden Keller and an ace by Zoe Ring closed out the victory.

“Venice played amazing. They’re scrappy,” Halbert said. “We know what to expect with Venice. It seemed like every time we made an adjustment, they made an adjustment. It was a constant chess match of both of us making adjustments to figure out a way to win.

“We kept applying the pressure. I scheduled a lot of tough matches. I put them in a lot of tough situations at practice. Being able to apply that and apply the pressure to someone else is such a good feeling.”

In the second set, the Indians came back again, taking their first lead at 23-22 on a Kluner kill.

After a Riverview timeout, the Rams scored four of the final five points on kills by Sam Reisky and McKenna Flaherty, a block by Carmen Hivdeberg and a service error, one of five by the Indians in the set.

“We had a good opportunity to close out Game 2, and we weren’t able to do that, Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. “Momentum switched at that point.”

There were seven ties and a couple of lead changes in the third set. The final lead change came late with Riverview senior libero Riah Walker at the service strips.

Walker, who picked up an amazing 50 digs, served five straight points, including an ace, to turn a 17-13 deficit into a 19-17 Rams lead.

From there a kill and block by Flaherty, a kill by Madison Binkley and a couple of Venice hitting errors gave Riverview a 2-1 advantage.

“We’re obviously trying to work through some things, as you can see in the match tonight,” Wheatley said.

In snapping a four-match losing streak to the Indians, the Rams used another run fueled by Walker’s serving to close it out in four.

“Momentum is so important in volleyball. Anyone can tell you that,” Halbert said. “But we really brought the energy from our bench.”

Trailing 16-14 a Binkley kill sent Walker to the service stripe, where she dialed up six straight points. Ella Pfeil had a couple of kills in the run. Hivdeberg had a kill, Walker dealt an ace and two more Venice hitting errors made it 21-16.

“Win or lose this match tonight, we didn’t play good volleyball. We have a lot to work on,” Wheatley said. “We’re still making really dumb errors. We’re not going to be able to win any volleyball games the way we are playing right now. A lot of areas of concern. You name it.”

Kluner finished with 18 kills. Ireland Ferguson and Gabrielle Atwell had 33 and 25 digs, respectively, for the Indians (5-2).

“The more times you’re in it, the more times you get a little more comfortable with it. Obviously, we are not as comfortable as I would like them to be,” said Wheatley, whose team also lost to Cardinal Mooney. “I probably need to do a better job at coaching this team because I’m obviously not doing a real good job right now.

“Congratulations to Riverview. Hats off to them.”

Binkley led the way with 16 kills. Pfeil and Flaherty each had 11. Flaherty also picked up 22 digs, but Walker was the star on the back line.

“Riah is amazing. She did such a great job tonight,” Halbert said. “And my outside hitters put the ball away tonight.”

The last time Riverview defeated the Indians was Oct. 13, 2016, when a Rams team coached by Venice assistant Craig Wolfe spoiled the Indians’ Senior Night with a five-set victory.

“We knew this was a game we really needed to win and we really wanted to win, and my girls showed that tonight,” Halbert said. “I’m so proud of them.”

Both teams play tough foes Thursday at home: Riverview (7-2) against defending state champion Ocala Trinity Catholic, which defeated Cardinal Mooney in five sets a year ago, and Venice against 10-5 Hoover out of Alabama.



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