The volleyball matchup between Air Academy and Coronado was supposed to be an early season test for both teams. The Kadets turned it into a demonstration as to why they are still one of the best teams in Class 4A.
Air Academy (2-2) swept 5A Coronado 25-14, 28-26, 25-21 on the Kadets' home floor, and showed the form that took them to the 4A state title match a year ago.
"We go back to our foundation every practice and every match, and that's our defense," Air Academy coach Shelley Small said. "We're a blue-collar, relentless-pursuit, defensive team. I'm proud of that, and we always know the offense will follow our defense."
The Kadets' roster won't win any height contests. The majority of Air Academy's players are undersized, but they have plenty of fight.
Air Academy senior Jordan Pingel, a University of Central Florida commit, says outworking the opponent is her team's bread and butter.
"We work a lot on our defense and serving, and our goal is to try to get the other team out of system because we know we can't out-hit and out-block anyone," said Pingel, who had 10 kills and 12 digs. "But we know if we can serve and pass better than the other team, we'll be money."
After the Kadets rolled to a 25-14 win in the first set, Coronado showed fight in the second frame. The Cougars opened quickly, going up 9-4, and found themselves in a position to win the set, up 26-25.
However, three straight points from Pingel and company locked up the match and seized all the momentum.
Junior Ashley Pagan said making it to the state title match last season, and becoming the hunted instead of the hunter, hasn't changed her team.
"Our mindset hasn't changed, but we now have the confidence to know that we're scrappy and good enough to take down good 5A teams like this," said Pagan, who tallied 11 kills and six digs.
The Cougars entered the match 2-0 and hadn't dropped a set. It was a reality check for coach Don Lash and his young Cougars.
"We made way too many unforced errors, and we never really got into our game and passed the way we wanted to," he said. "Our communication skills have been good, but they weren't tonight. Air Academy is a good team, and we'll learn from this experience."