FORT WALTON BEACH - Moments after sweeping Fort Walton Beach in Tuesday’s District 2-6A semifinal, Niceville coach Jill Benson said she fully expected the Eagles to rout Mosley in the championship.
Her team apparently got the memo.
Kayla Carr delivered a match-high 19 kills, Ashley Hagood dished out a match-best 29 assists and Niceville won its fifth district title in six years with a 25-11, 25-21, 25-18 sweep over the defending champion Dolphins Thursday at Choctaw High School gym.
See a slideshow of Thursday's night championship here.
Asked again if she anticipated the sweep, Benson said, “Yes. I have faith in my girls. When they play solid like that, they’re unstoppable.”
It was the third consecutive district championship matchup between the pair of programs, which split the regular-season series with 3-1 wins at home. But foreshadowing Thursday night’s effort, Mosley looked off its game Tuesday in a hard-fought, 3-1 semifinal win over Crestview while the Eagles barely broke a sweat against the Vikings.
Displaying free-flowing communication, lunging digs and picture-perfect sets to a front row that found all the holes, Niceville executed its game plan to a tee.
“We had a game plan, we stuck to it and we beat them,” said Benson, whose team gets to host an opponent yet to be determined at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Regional quarterfinals. “Our team deserved to win because we worked hard all week.”
Hagood, who also had five kills, echoed the message of the Eagles’ unflinching work ethic.
“I felt like we entered with a lot of confidence and we were focused after preparing hard all week,” she said. “We were ready.”
And it was a complete, top-to-bottom team effort.
Jen Smith and Kayla Henrie each had nine kills, Sami Mims added four kills and Portia Rodgers chipped in 15 assists for the Eagles, who only trailed twice in the match.
“Kayla Carr and Kayla Henrie and even our middles, everybody did a great job across the front,” said Benson. “That was a team that wanted to win.”
Throw in the brilliant defense of Tess Morkin and Kimy Sarra, who set the pace on a dominant back-row effort that limited Rachel Skibba – who had 23 kills Tuesday – to just five kills, and the Eagles saved their best effort for the biggest stage they’ve entered all year.
“Our passing is our just complete nails and our setting was on, so I think this was the best teamwork we’ve displayed all year,” said Smith, who delivered a kill up the middle to close out the sweep. “We came together and we were just unstoppable.”
And that was evident from the start.
Fueled by three kills each from Carr and Henrie, the Eagles jumped out to a 12-5 lead and never looked back. With Hagood setting the table with six assists and its service game pounding out five aces, the Eagles cruised to a first-set, 25-11 win.
“We just came out ready,” Smith said. “We had prepared hard all week for this.”
Riding the momentum, Carr came alive for nine kills in the second, Hagood dished out another 13 assists and the Eagles ended the second set on a 6-2 run to pull off a 25-21 win.
From there, it was all she wrote.
Smith saved her best for last with five kills in the third and final set and Rodgers dished out seven assists, the final which found Smith up the middle to cap off the win.
So where do the Eagles go from here? Benson’s hoping all the way to the state finals.
“We refer to the (postseason) as the steps to the championship,” she said. “This was step two so we just have to keep going.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Seth Stringer at 850-315-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SethSnwfdn.