OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee High School varsity volleyball team beat district newcomer Sebring 3-0 on Sept. 12 and took the powerhouse Jensen Beach Lady Falcons all the way to the fifth set before falling 3-2 on Sept. 17.
The Lady Brahmans had been looking forward to the Sebring game ever since they lost to the Lady Blue Streaks early in the season. Sebring gave Okeechobee their first loss of the season back on Aug. 22, winning 3-1.
Head coach Taylor Padrick said the team was a little caught off guard at how fast Sebring played. The Lady Blue Streaks are playing in Okeechobee’s 5A District 12 for the first time after a reshuffling by the Florida High School Athletic Association. The Lady Brahmans weren’t the only team Sebring caught off guard. The Lady Blue Streaks went on to shut out last year’s district champions Jensen Beach 3-0 a few games after playing Okeechobee.
Coming into the rematch, Sebring had tallied a record of 6-1 and looked like they might be the new district powerhouse, especially after knocking off Jensen Beach so easily.
But the Lady Brahmans were ready for them this time, and shut out the Lady Blue Streaks 3-0. Okeechobee won the first set 26-24, second set 25-19 and third set 25-21.
Sophomores Anja Koivunen and Joy Whipple led the Lady Brahmans in kills against Sebring with eight and six, respectively.
While Sebring is new to the district, the Jensen Beach Lady Falcons are an old rival to the Lady Brahmans. Perhaps rival is the wrong word, as it implies some kind of back and forth between the two teams. Jensen Beach has had Okeechobee’s number for years. In fact, before 2018, the last time Okeechobee took a set from the Lady Falcons was 2010. That’s nearly a decade of domination that Jensen has enjoyed over the Lady Brahmans.
But that changed last year. For the first time in eight years, the Lady Brahmans took one set from Jensen, losing the game 3-1.
And this year Okeechobee improved a little more when the two teams faced off in the OHS gym. The Lady Brahmans took two sets from Jensen, taking the Lady Falcons to five sets before falling 3-2.
From the first whistle, you could tell things were different this year. The game had the intensity and atmosphere of a playoff match. Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watford and City Councilman Bob Jarriel were in attendance to show support to the home team, and the Lady Brahmans put on a show.
Okeechobee jumped out to a 7-2 lead in the first set. The Lady Brahmans were able to control the momentum swings throughout that set and come out with the 25-19 win. Okeechobee senior Ashley Snyder had some crucial serves throughout the first set that cause trouble for the Jensen defense.
After a few back and forth points in the second set, Okeechobee again jumped out to a big lead early, going up 8-3. The normally vocal Jensen Beach bench seemed to be stunned. This doesn’t happen. Okeechobee is usually an afterthought on the Lady Falcons schedule and here they were, dominating the second set and on the verge of shutting out the defending district champions.
But they are defending district champions for a reason. And you have to give the Lady Falcons credit for having the mental toughness to stay focused in a hostile environment on the verge of losing.
The third set opened with both teams trading points. In fact, the majority of the set was a constant back and forth between both teams. It was the best Jensen had played to that point, but still Okeechobee was able to hang with the Lady Falcons and keep things close with the score sitting at 15-15 near the midpoint of the set. Eventually Jensen was able to put together an extended rally following a great series of serves by senior Alana Grasso and the Lady Falcons took the third set 25-18.
Communication issues on the Okeechobee side allowed Jensen to put together a small run in the fourth set to go up 19-15. The Lady Falcons were able to ride that to a 25-21 win to force a fifth and final set.
The last time Okeechobee took Jensen Beach to a fifth set was in the district playoffs back on Oct. 28, 2010. Coincidentally, that game played out in a very similar fashion to 2019. The Lady Brahmans took the first two sets and looked to be on the verge of eliminating Jensen Beach, and then the Lady Falcons rallied and took the last three sets to win the game.
Back in 2019, Okeechobee jumped out to a big 9-3 lead over the Jensen to start the fifth set. But the Lady Falcons battled back to tie things up 12-12 and eventually were able to take the win with a final score of 16-14.
Whipple and Koivunen lead the team in kills against Jensen, with each having 13, followed by sophomore Ashley Phares with 10.
The Lady Brahmans may eventually get another shot at Jensen this year in the district playoffs. And with the once untouchable Lady Falcons suddenly looking very beatable, you can be sure the Lady Brahmans would relish the opportunity to knock Jensen out of the playoffs and send them home early.
Okeechobee next travels to Fort Pierce to take on John Carroll Catholic at 6 p.m. on Sept. 24.