BAKER— The Baker volleyball team’s path back to the state final four has familiar foes.
The Gators host South Walton in the region semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. If Baker gets past the Seahawks, the winner of the Chipley-Jay semifinal would be next for the Gators.
Baker (22-2) played, and beat, all three teams during the regular season. If the Gators make it to the state tournament semifinals in Kissimmee, they likely will face the Lafayette team that beat them for the state championship last year.
If Baker makes it to the championship match, a Sneads team the Gators beat in last year’s state semifinals may seek revenge.
First, the Gators must get past the Seahawks before thinking about packing their bags for a Nov. 11 date in Kissimmee.
Baker coaches Tomikko Parks and James Kerrell aren’t overlooking anything as their team tries for a second straight trip to the state tournament.
Parks said Baker would see a tall and athletic Seahawk squad that runs an offense similar to that of Choctawhatchee. Although the Gators swept South Walton in three meetings this year, the Seahawks could test the Gators.
“They are tall and have some big girls in the middle,” Parks said. “They like to run (quick sets) in the middle; that’s their thing to do right now. Watching the film in the games, that’s what they like to do.
“They run an offense a lot like Choctaw’s in that they try to run a quicker offense. Defensively, we just have to be sharp and follow the ball and make sure that you are reacting in time. You can’t get caught flatfooted.”
The 2012 Gators’ motto is team first as the Gators vie for the state championship.
“They are playing together as a team,” Parks said. “The girls have come together. With the summer … and preseason practices and that stuff, we have been together since July and we have played a lot of ball games.
“There were a lot of workouts during the summer and they were all there. They weren’t taking off for this or taking off for that; they were all in the gym, working hard, because they had a goal and they knew where they wanted to be at the end of the season.”
The team concept is evident in the way the Gators distribute the ball offensively where there is no superstar, and on any given night, a different player will rise to the occasion, Kerrell said.
“The thing I like the most about this team this year is, offensively, we spread the ball around more than last year,” he said. “We have go-to girls, but we also have a lot of other ones (who) step up in any game. Somebody (else) will have a big game sometime, and we are not just focused on one player.
“Last year, Laurie (Steele) was our go-to girl and she was 90 percent of our offense. This year, Katie (Wickery) is a big part. But right behind Katie, you’ve got Savannah (Risen), you’ve got Hanah (Wadsworth), Jordan (Linzy) and Haley (Wagner) — you’ve got all these weapons that make us (a) much more dynamic team this year.”
What it all boils down to is Baker is playing Baker volleyball, Parks said.
“They are very confident in their ability about the things we’ve been over in practice,” she said. “We’ve practiced the things that we think will get us there (to the state finals). We haven’t tried to do a bunch of elaborate things with our offense.
“We have been very fundamental on offense and defense. We have to — I keep saying it — play Baker volleyball. We don’t want to try to get outside of what we know.”
Parks and Kerrell said the team’s hunger is fueled by coming up one match short last year.
“The one goal is to get to the state championship game, and (losing) last year just kind of fed that,” Parks said. “These girls know what it feels like to be down there, and they want that state championship. They want to be able to get back to that point.
“They have worked hard all season and that is all we could have asked from them.”
The hunger started the day the team left Kissimme last year, Kerrell said.
“The girls played there once and the day we left, there they were talking about it again. ‘We are coming back,’” he said.
“Yes, it’s familiar — and familiarity is good sometimes.”