TAMPA — In the region final against Naples Lely on Saturday, Robinson High’s volleyball team was a few points away from being sent home, just one win shy of the state final four — again.
Then there was a defining moment.
“The first thing we said to them was if they’re going to win, we’re going to make them beat us and give them all we’ve got,” said Christen Garcia, Robinson’s second-year head coach, whose team had lost the first two games.
And like they’ve done all season, the Knights found a way to come back and win. A year after losing in the same round, they walked away as region champions.
Today at 5 p.m., the Knights will make their first trip to the state final four since 1978, the year the program captured its first and only state title, when they play Belleview (24-5) in the Class 5A state semifinals at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
At 14-13, they’re the underdogs. But that’s the way they like it to be.
“I think we embrace that,” senior libero Alex Peterson said. “People think that we’re the underdog but we have a lot to show for ourselves and a lot to bring to Robinson’s name.”
Even when the team entered the second half of the season with a 6-11 record, mainly from playing in two highly competitive tournaments in which they finished a combined 1-9, the Knights held their heads high.
“We didn’t really focus on the wins and losses,” Garcia said. “It was about playing the best competition that we could in those tournaments, knowing we could get a loss, but how much could we compete with them and how many times could we have close sets or maybe pull off a set here and there. To play the No. 1 team in the nation, you kind of expect that loss, but in that match you’re going to be better for so many reasons.”
The Knights average 13.7 digs per set, but only 9.4 kills. Their key to winning is simply stopping the opposing team from scoring.
“We’re not as big as other teams so we have to be scrappy,” said Peterson, who has a team-high 309 digs. “Our defense has to be better than theirs for us to be able to win.”
“We have to go after everything,” said senior setter Kylee Gorngpratum, who has 516 assists.
If frustrating opponents was a statistic, the Knights might rank at the top.
“We give them a hard time,” Gorngpratum said. “It’s, ‘Oh, Robinson picked up that tip’ or ‘Robinson got that, it’s not working.’ We just aggravate people so much.”
“We’re like that little bug that’s annoying,” Garcia said.
Garcia won three state titles as a setter for Durant at the turn of the century. Though she’s given her players a champion’s perspective, she said the desire to win comes from within.
“I’m a Type-A personality and I bring a certain discipline to the team, but also, there’s some fire under these kids,” Garcia said. “They want to do what it takes to find a way to win.”