By Jeremy Balan
After a full rotation through Bay Counties League Central play, International High School has established itself as the team to beat.
The Jaguars extended a six-game league unbeaten streak to remain undefeated in the BCL Central with a win over visiting Gateway on Monday, but they did so in one of the strangest ways possible.
After controlling the first two games, International allowed Gateway to claim the third, before crushing the Gators in the fourth game of the 25-16, 25-7, 24-26, 25-2 win.
The Jaguars (7-4, 6-0) bounced back from a mistake-laden third game with a dominant fourth, where they went on a 14-0 run to start the game, then went on a 11-0 run to end the match.
“We got complacent in Game 3,” said International head coach Justin Caraway. “We had a big lead and we have this tendency to let up a little bit. It wasn’t our worst game, but it was pretty ugly. The players came out [in the fourth game] and realized they were better than that and went out and [did] what we normally do, serve tough and control the ball.”
The Jaguars’ service attack was potent, totaling 33 aces led by a match-high 13 from sophomore setter Kassie Encinas. Outside hitter Mia Fierberg also had seven aces and senior libero Leonor Gaillard tallied six.
The barrage of aces enabled the Jaguars to go on extended runs in each game.
“In Game 2 and Game 4, we didn’t even make it all the way around [our rotation],” Caraway said. “They helped us out a little bit, but there were a lot of balls that were really good serves.”
While the aces carried International during runs, when the Jaguars needed to go through a conventional offense, junior outside hitter Sofia Fors shined, with a match-high 14 kills to go along with three aces of her own.
“That outside attack on the left is our bread and butter, and she had a really good night,” Caraway said.
The final game was dominated by International, but the resilient Gators (1-7, 1-5) may have played their best game of the year in the third, battling back from a 19-12 deficit for the win.
Senior Alison Sanchez led Gateway with five kills in the match, while Winta Zerri and and Jenna Harkins added four kills apiece.
“A lot of my players are converted soccer players,” said Gateway head coach Michael Sami. “We’re still learning. I have a young team, so next year will probably be better.”
For International, which has already defeated every league opponent including defending champion Bay, the focus is on a championship in its final year in the BCL Central.
“We set a goal to put one of those banners on that wall in our last year,” Caraway said.