Coral Shores High School Varsity Volleyball Team Media Day Thursday, August 24, 2023. Photo by Doug Finger

When Marathon and Coral Shores landed in the same playoff bracket last week, it was inevitable that one team’s season would end and one would go on in hopes of making a deep run into districts. Unfortunately for Marathon, the Dolphins were on the losing end of the FHSAA District 16 3A quarterfinal match. The Hurricanes defeated the Fins on Oct. 17, winning all three sets of the match and moving on to the semifinals the following night. There, the third-seeded ’Canes upset Somerset South Homestead, ranked second in the district, 3-1, sending them into the district championship game on Oct. 20 against top-seeded Palmer Trinity. 

The road to the championship game was a familiar one for Coral Shores – they played exactly the same trio of teams in the 2022 postseason. The outcomes would be identical, as well. Coral Shores fell to Palmer 3-0, ending the season with a noteworthy 15-10 record. 

Hurricanes coach Sam Ovalle had nothing but praise for his hard-working squad. 

“I’m so proud of my team.This was a goal of ours from the beginning of the season, to get back to this game and see what happened and we made it back,” he said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get over the hump against a great Palmer team. We didn’t play our best game tonight and they were at the top of their game and it showed.”

Despite the loss, Coral Shores saw fantastic play from senior captain Brooke Mandozzi, who once again led the Lady ’Canes on offense and defense. Mandozzi had seven kills, eight digs, three blocks and a service rating of 3.0 in the game. 

“Palmer was really trying to keep the ball away from Brooke all game – you could hear them talking about it,” Ovalle said. 

Also stepping up for the ’Canes was Niveah Howard, who appeared on the JV roster until just two weeks ago. Since then, Howard has shown stellar play, leading the team with five blocks against Palmer and scrambling all over the court in a valiant effort to keep the Hurricanes in the game. 

“This team has been such a pleasure to coach. I’m going to miss coaching our three seniors so much,” said Ovalle. “Brooke, Crystal (Gutierrez) and Iona (Holmquist) are so special to me and have given so much to the program. They’re amazing players and even better young ladies. … (But) I’m also excited about our future as we have a lot of strong players coming back.”

Key West’s formidable schedule helped them earn the home court advantage in the FHSAA District 16 4A quarterfinals. The Conchs made light work of Miami Killian on Oct. 17, winning in three sets and moving on to the semifinals. There, Key West faced top-seeded Gulliver Prep, a perennial powerhouse in prep volleyball. 

The Conchs lost 3-0 to the Raiders, a team which went on to win a challenging district and is now ranked first in the regional bracket. Coach Sara Eckert had nothing but praise for her tenacious team. 

“We saw tremendous growth in each player’s individual skills this season,” she said. “Gulliver is a powerhouse and very likely to make a run for the state title this year. It’s unfortunate that we faced them so early in the tournament, but it’s never a bad thing to compete against the best. The hope is for all of the returning players to want it that much more and embrace the challenge to keep developing and reach that same level.” 

The Conchs finished the season 8-18 after facing a tough schedule of some of the most talented teams in the state.

Tracy McDonald fled to the Keys from the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania hours after graduating from college and never looked back. She is a second generation coach and educator, and has taught in the public school system for over 25 years. She and her husband met at a beginning teacher meeting in 1997 and have three children born and raised in Monroe County. In her free time, McDonald loves flea markets, historical fiction and long runs in the heat.