Emily Gear, one of five Fort Myers High School volleyball players returning to the FHSAA Finals for the third year in a row, explained the difference between last year's approach and this year's mission.
"Last year, we were expecting to win," Gear said. "This year, we're going up there just really hoping to win."
Fort Myers, ranked No. 77 in the nation in the latest prepvolleyball.com rankings, defeated Archbishop McCarthy 25-14, 25-10, 25-18 Saturday afternoon in the Fort Myers High gymnasium for the Region 6A-4 championship.
"They were a decent team," said Archbishop McCarthy coach Karen Frank, whose team finished its season for the second year in a row to the Green Wave, this time with a 17-11 record. "We didn't play well, so it's hard to judge."
Fort Myers won a regional championship for the fourth year in a row under coach Stephanie Martin. Her team improved to 26-3.
"I love it," Martin said. "We kept putting pressure on them."
In the second game, the Green Wave turned a 1-0 deficit into a 10-1 lead. Junior Haley Galewski, who finished with two aces, fired off 10 consecutive serves.
"It was unbelievable," Galewski said. "I'm nervous, but really excited. We will all stay calm and stay focused."
Having five veterans of the FHSAA Finals would help, Galewski said.
In addition to Gear, seniors Whitney Letourneau, Kenzi Gustason, Danielle Matte and junior Chelsea Oliver will have another go-around at trying to win their school's first volleyball state championship since 1990 and the first for Martin. Oliver had a team-high 16 kills, and sophomore Briana Correa contributed with 10 kills.
Fort Myers will play Ocala Vanguard, which on Saturday defeated Orlando Edgewater 26-16, 25-8, 25-15, led by a 20-kill performance by McKenna Foster.
The Green Wave will play Vanguard at noon Tuesday at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee.
"Because this is our third time, and because this is our third chance, this is the most nerve-wracking," said Gustason, who had eight digs Saturday.
"I had so much adrenaline, I barely remember what happened in the game last year," said Letourneau of falling to eventual state-champion Tallahassee Leon in last season's Class 6A state title match. "Going into it, we're going to be ready."
Matte, who had 34 assists Saturday, said there's still pressure to break through for that elusive state title.
"You get the butterflies, because you're going up against a different team every year," she said.