The Calvary Christian Academy girls beach volleyball team enjoyed its first-ever high school state title so much last year that the goal this season was to go back-to-back.
Mission accomplished as the Lady Eagles clinched the Class A championship with a victory over Bishop McLaughlin (Spring Hill). The Calvary Christian squad then won the Challenge Cup by defeating Class AA state champion West Orange High School from Winter Garden.
The Sunshine State Athletic Conference established the tournament last year at the Hickory Point beach volleyball complex in Tavares. After 39 teams battled it out in the regional competition, the number was reduced to 12 for both the Class A and AA state finale.
Playing in the South Beach Division during the regular season, the Lady Eagles soared to a perfect 8-0 record that gave them plenty of momentum heading into regionals and states. They prevailed in four more during the post-season action to finish at 12-0.
In the process, Calvary Christian extended its two-year unbeaten streak to a highly impressive 29 games.
"We were really tested this year. I was just so impressed with how well the girls handled themselves," said Tammy Pelski, who served as head coach and was assisted on the sideline by her husband Andrew. "They are all amazing athletes and were very humble throughout the season."
She is optimistic that the Florida High School Athletic Association will make beach volleyball a sanctioned sport.
The Lady Eagles lost two seniors from last year's state championship squad and entered this season minus any senior leadership. Undaunted, the young club of eight players rose to the challenge and ripped off four straight victories in the playoffs.
The tournament format featured a slight change from last year when competing high schools had four pairs of players involved in the action. This year, the tournament had the top three duos from each school competing in the best-of three-format. The Eagles' depth proved invaluable in making it back-to-back state crowns.
Similar to tennis where there is positioning among the roster members such as number-one singles and number-two doubles, the competing beach volleyball teams had number-one, number-two and number-three groups.
Calvary Christian's number-one team included juniors Maylin Bouffard and Kaitlyn Watkins, while sophomores Neiya Pelski and Manaia Rewi served as the number-two contingent. Junior Eliana Burgos and sophomore Isabella Lizaso made up the number-three tandem. Capable backups Brianna Diaz, a sophomore, and Kenyce Johnson, an eighth-grader were waiting in the wings as the alternate fourth pair.
Just such a situation occurred in the Challenge Cup. With Watkins suffering leg cramps during the match, Diaz admirably stepped in and she and Bouffard battled hard but dropped the opening match. Pelski and Rewi then hit the sand and trailed most of their match but rallied back and prevailed with a 28-26 win. With the match tied 1-1, Burgos and Lizaso stepped up to clinch the victory and the title.
Neiya Pelski has been enjoying the beach volleyball journey with her teammates the last couple of years. The 15-year-old from Fort Lauderdale has no desire to see the winning streak end anytime soon.
"We have everyone coming back next year and are hoping for a three-peat," Pelski said. "All the other teams are getting better, so the competition will be tough. It was awesome to win two state titles in a row and we were so excited. My partner Manaia (Rewi) is my best friend off the court so we had that great chemistry working on the court."
Article originally from Sun Sentinel.