On Thursday night, the Weeki Wachee Hornets (9-16) defeated the Hudson Cobras (12-9) in 4 sets at the Hornets’ Nest in the 2023 Girls Volleyball District Tournament. Technically visitors in their own gym, the Green and Black took another crucial step in their season-long turnaround by emerging victorious from the 4A District 9 finals. While the Cobras were relatively consistent throughout the year, the Hornets improved dramatically from start to finish. After starting 2-13 before mid-September, Coach Kelly Werkmeister’s squad has now managed a 7-3 record since that point.
“They did very well from the beginning of the season to come to where they are now,” said Coach Werkmeister. “They’re gelling at the right time. With the girls turning around, especially with Dylan [Elfderdkink], the one who turned around and glided and playing tough until the end. The team just helped her and did everything that they needed to. It’s all effort of the whole team, not just one person, and they still have a lot more I believe in them this year. They finally got past the three-year mark. Now we’re trying to get to the four.”
The opening set was tightly contested at times and fluctuated throughout. Weeki Wachee never trailed in the first frame and led by five midway through the action. The Cobras would whittle Weeki down to a slim 17-16 lead before the Hornets would pour it on. Thanks to Senior OH/MH Dylan Elferdink’s 5 kills as well as 3 kills, 3 aces, and a block by Freshman OH/MH Marlee Schumacher, the hosting team outscored their opposition 8-1 to shut the door in the initial period. Three of Weeki Wachee’s final five points also came off kills by Elferdink.
Frame two was the most eventful of the night. Hudson thrashed the Hornets for much of the second stanza due to 7 scores by Senior OH/DS Zoe Graham, which included match point, and a mammoth 10 points (7 kills, 3 aces) from Senior OH Chloey Keen. As the set neared its end, Head Coach Stephen Jones’ Cobras looked to coast to an easy victory up 24-16 with match point remaining. Then, Weeki Wachee forced the “home team” to live in this scenario for seven straight points. The Hornets clawed all the way back to a 24-23 deficit thanks to four Elferdink kills before Graham put the game away.
“[Chloey Keen] had a lot of heart and she never gave up,” Coach Werkmeister said. “Their [Zoe Graham] is one of their other go-to hitters. They’re a great hustling team over there. They never stop, but it was one of those ones you guys just had to keep on the gas pedal and not give up. So, that’s what we both did, and we were able to prevail in this one.”
The senior would go down with an apparent face injury on the last play of the previous set, but she returned at the start of the third frame and gutted out the rest of the game. The Hornets would also continue their tendency of finishing strong. After Hudson had evened the series at 1-1, Coach Werkmeister’s squad scored five straight to end the frame after the Cobras had drawn even at 20 all. Elferdink (24 kills, 1 ace) and Schumacher (21 kills, 4 aces) each contributed more to their 25-score point totals across the entirety of the contest to help end set three in favor of Weeki Wachee.
The hosts would get out to a comfortable 14-9 lead midway through set four and led by as many as 7 before taking the final frame 25-19. Other contributors to Weeki’s district tournament victory included Junior MH Jadyn Aponte (7 kills, 3 blocks), Freshman MH Savannah Aponte (4 kills), and Junior S Isabel Shelby (4 aces). These players among others progressed throughout the year in areas like serve receiving to help the Hornets emerge victorious from the district rounds.
“It’s just everything,” the Hornets’ coach said. “Like I said, the serve receive from the beginning of the year until now and just the team work is all coming together. So, as long as they all keep practicing hard and believing, I think they’ll keep on going further.”
Looking ahead, the Cobras are not necessarily knocked out of contention yet. They are awaiting their fate on Saturday when the brackets are released. In taking the district finals, the Hornets will not have to wonder whether they will advance, but they do not yet know who their foe will be. Coach Werkmeister’s squad will continue to work on “trusting each other” and “knowing their defenses” as they progress to the Regional Quarterfinals on Tuesday.