A win over last year’s Class 7A state semifinalist Jupiter in a recent regular season match has done wonders for the Boca Raton High School girls’ volleyball team.
The Bobcats were swept by Jupiter 3-0 in the regional final, but it served as motivation heading into this season. Boca entered the match undefeated (9-0), while Jupiter was 8-2. Boca Raton prevailed in four sets: 25-17, 20-25, 25-18, 25-11. In the last game, Jupiter had jumped out to a 5-0 lead before being outscored 25-6.
“This win really helps to build our confidence and show our potential,” said setter Heather McKenzie, who along with fellow senior Alyssa Piedra, serve as team captains. “Even though we did lose a set, we have never been able to come back from us being down and it really showed us what we are truly capable of beating the top-8 team in the state. I think it shows us how much potential we have for the rest of the season.”
Jupiter was riding a 40-game win streak dating back to 2020 when they knocked off the Bobcats in the regional match. Jupiter was upset by Windemere in the state semifinals 3-2 but losing to the Warriors was something this year’s Boca Raton team vividly remembers.
“Our team is ridiculously close,” McKenzie, 17, of Boca Raton, said. “In the locker room before the games we are singing, and we have been insanely close since the first practice.
“Winning a state championship is definitely my goal and it is the goal of the other eight seniors on the team,” she said. “I definitely think that is all of our motivations after last year if we really want to go and win states after losing to this team in regional finals. I think we are really motivated and will push through the end to finish with a big win.”
Junior outside hitter Natalie Depaula, 16, also of Boca Raton, said it was nice to make a statement against their nemesis.
“Honestly, we worked so hard to get to this point and I am so proud of us,” she said. “Even though we lost really badly to them last year we didn’t let it affect us, which was really good. We have been working our butt off at practice and just to be able to win against an amazing team like them is just the best feeling ever. I think we were all hoping for it.”
Boca coach Dre Sloan is in his fifth year at the school with the boys and second with the girls. He said the team is farther along than he expected.
“Like most teams, they are working at getting better and better daily,” Sloan said. “They are definitely further along than I had hoped. We are a threat. We are a competitive bunch. The training has been going well and the team has been performing. I am very content so far.
“We faced (Jupiter) last year in the regional finals and we gave them a run for their money,” Sloan said. “They were a very talented team. We wouldn’t expect them to be any different this year. They have a great mentality. We wanted to test ourselves to see where we are at this stage, hopefully for a future showdown again.”
He said his goal from the first day he took over the team was to reach the state tournament.
“I think this team deserves it,” Sloan said. “They have put in the work. The question is now, do they want it? Are they willing to sacrifice all to make that happen? Our objective is absolutely clear is states and that is where we want to be. I think anything less would be a disappointment.”
Breaking News Alerts
As it happens
Get updates on developing stories as they happen with our free breaking news email alerts.
The Bobcats, who were 3-6 at this time a year ago and went on to finish 12-10, have also benefitted from the arrival of sophomore outside hitter Mija Bendziute, who moved to Boca Raton over the summer from Pennsylvania.
“It was a really big change,” said Bendziute, 15. “I think the whole environment pushed me to get better and I think this game really set the tone for the rest of the season and showed how we can really play as a team.
“We made the move over the summer, and I was not expecting this whatsoever,” she said. “I made such good friends and it’s such a good team. I would have never believed this could be the outcome.”
Bendziute said she is surprised she has made as much of an impact as she has.
“Coming in, I was really nervous and scared how I would contribute to the team,” she said. “I think we all work so well together. I think winning this game against Jupiter together just showed how much we could adjust to new players; new teammates and it can really open up a new perspective on Boca Raton High School.”
How good can they be?
“The best,” she said.