Forest cruises past Vanguard in volleyball

Wildcats celebrate senior night with sweep of Knights

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Posted October 5, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

The Forest volleyball team celebrated senior night in style with a convincing win over long-time rival Vanguard by scores of 25-14, 25-19 and 25-13 on Thursday night.

The straight-set victory in front of their raucous fans improved Class 6A Forest to 15-7 on the season.

“We could not ask for anything more,” said veteran Wildcats coach Jimmy Collins. “I was concerned about a rivalry match on senior night, but the girls were focused and really responded with a great effort. We had five seniors and a junior on the floor to start the match and they really got us off to a good start with great energy. I’m really happy with the consistency we played with and with how well we served. We had good ball control and had Vanguard out of system most of the match.”

The loss dropped Class 5A Vanguard to 5-10 overall.

“It’s hard to come in here on senior night with a good crowd and Forest played well and wanted it more than we did,” said Knights coach Luis Perez. “At the end of the day, it’s about who wants it more and they deserved to win. We have to learn from this loss and use it as fuel for the rest of the season.”

The first set was tied 9 before Forest went on a 13-3 run sparked by the solid net play of senior outside hitter Kailyn Howard, who had two of her match-high 12 kills, and senior middle hitter Taylor Sanders, who contributed two kills and a pair of key blocks.

A spike by junior outside hitter Ava Herren, who finished with eight kills, made it 24-14 and a perfectly placed shot by Allison Hamm found the floor to give the Wildcats the first set.

The second set was tied at 8 before Forest used its balanced offense to take control as senior setter Ava Keuntjes, who had a match-high 34 assists, put the ball in the perfect spot for the Wildcat hitters to be able to score points.

Junior middle hitter Avery O’Cull nailed a pair of kill shots, as did Howard and Sanders, as Forest extended its lead to 23-13. Howard and freshman Lexie Quash combined for a block of a shot by Vanguard’s Lillian Hart and Howard drilled a cross-court spike to close out the set.

Forest had all the momentum and it showed in the final set as the Wildcats jumped out to a commanding 11-3 lead as Sanders, who had a match-high eight blocks, dominated play at the net. Herren and Hamm took turns finding holes in the Vanguard defense with kill shots and strong serving kept the Knights off balance.

Forest closed out the set and the match with a combination block by Howard and Quash and a spike by Vanguard that sailed out of bounds.

“All in all, probably the best match we’ve played this year,” coach Collins said. “It’s great to play that well against our cross-town rival because I have so much respect Vanguard and their program.”

Forest is back in action on Tuesday night with a home match against Santa Fe High School, while Vanguard will compete in a pair of tournaments over the weekend.

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