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All-News4Jax volleyball: Burkhardt, Ponte Vedra squad proved untouchable

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Amy Burkhardt caught up quick on high school volleyball history in the area.

She’s now a very big part of it.

The outside hitter and All-News4Jax volleyball player of the year didn’t know the full ins and outs of the sport here. She moved from Virginia to Ponte Vedra before the season and had only heard stories from her cousins, who were exceptional volleyball players in town during their eras.

But now? The appreciation for what she and the Sharks accomplished has set in.

“You don’t really realize what you’re going through until its gone, you’re so wrapped up in it while you’re playing,” Burkhardt said.

“Looking back, like wow, we were good. It was a very fun season, too. It felt very short. I wish it would’ve lasted longer. I’m still like kind of starstruck by even winning states and stuff because I’ve never done that before because I’m new this year. … It’s just an amazing experience. I’m just glad I got to experience that with them.”

Good doesn’t properly convey just how dominant that Burkhardt and the Sharks were in 2020. They were historically dominant. The best and most dominant volleyball season ever by an area team.

Among the select teams to have won state titles, only Bishop Kenny’s 2014 season is comparable to the ’20 Sharks. BK went 31-1 that season, winning its final 23 matches and the Class 5A crown on its way to a No. 9 national ranking.

Burkhardt knew stories of that team. Her cousin, Molly, was a hybrid hitter/setter for the Crusaders.

Burkhardt was already an excellent volleyball player before she moved to the area. She was coming off of a 391-kill season as a junior at Woodson High in Fairfax, Va., a team that went 27-5 and lost in the Class 6 state championship match.

Her family was already in the process of relocating for her mother’s career change when the pandemic hit. High school sports in Virginia, like Florida, remained in flux most of the summer until the Virginia High School League agreed to move volleyball into 2021 and play an abbreviated season. While Florida dragged its feet on making a decision, it ultimately decided to keep the fall sports seasons intact, albeit with a later start.

With volleyball a go in the state and a familiarity with the area — Amy’s cousins, Molly and Justine were both exceptional high school players here — she and her family relocated to the area. It’s also close to where she’s going to play at in college at UNF.

The next big task — how would Burkhardt fit into a Sharks lineup that was coming off of a championship of its own in 2019? Burkhardt said the process was smooth because her Ponte Vedra teammates made her feel welcome and wanted.

“It was actually a lot easier than I expected it to be because it is hard to move in your senior year,” she said.

And then … history.

Ponte Vedra hit its stride late in 2019, ripping off nine consecutive wins to end the season, all of them by sweep. That included five playoff romps, including the state championship.

If 2019 was a dominant finish, the encore was a wire-to-wire blueprint in total domination. The Sharks obliterated every opponent they saw. Of their 27 matches, Ponte Vedra swept 26 of them. Only St. Johns County rival Creekside managed to win a set against the Sharks, pushing Ponte Vedra to a 3-2 match on Oct. 8 that went to 18-16 in the decisive fifth set.

Everything before and after that was a sweep. Burkhardt had 224 kills for the Sharks and a state championship in her senior year.

“Because of the pandemic and everything I’m just glad that I was given the chance to play because everybody in Virginia, they couldn’t play [a regular season],” she said.

FIRST TEAM

Position, player, school, class

OH Amy Burkhardt, Ponte Vedra, Sr.

All-News4Jax player of the year. Class 5A player of the year had 224 kills to lead the most dominant team in area history. Had 202 digs and 26 blocks, both totals ranking in top four on team. UNF signee.

OH/MB Allison Cavanaugh, Bishop Kenny, So.

Followed up on stellar freshman season with Class 4A state championship. Had 295 kills and had a kill percentage of 49%. Team-leading 57 blocks. Class 4A state player of the year.

OH Jessica Lary, Creekside, Sr.

A four-year player for the Knights. Had 161 kills and a team-best 48 service aces. Second on team with 230 digs. Handled 372 receptions.

L Sydney Lewis, Bartram Trail, So.

Team-leading 43 aces and 464 digs. Also, the top player in the return game, with 278 receptions.

OH Jaden McBride, Creekside, Sr.

Two-time selection on All-News4Jax team. Had 279 kills and a kill percentage of 44%. Second on team in both aces (36) and blocks (29). Third on Knights in digs (223). Embry-Riddle signee.

S Azra Mulalic, Fletcher, Sr.

Two-time selection on All-News4Jax team. Ran the Senators offense smoothly. Had 620 assists, second in the area. Had team-best 39 aces, third on Senators in both blocks (28) and digs (231).

L Jangelyz Ramirez, Fleming Island, Sr.

Two-time selection on All-News4Jax team. Team-best 370 digs. Added 61 assists. Good hands in the serve-receive game.

S Jessica Shattles, Ponte Vedra, So.

Ran the Sharks’ dynamic offense perfectly. Dished out 736 assists. Had 207 digs, 38 service aces, 24 blocks in the most dominant season in area volleyball history.

SECOND TEAM

S/RS Taylor Boyd, Mandarin, Jr.

Second on Mustangs with 161 kills. Versatile playmaker on the outside or running the offense. Led team with 68 aces. Added 24 blocks, 153 digs and 212 assists.

OH Caroline Brackens, Yulee, Jr.

Second on the team with 242 kills. Team-best 71 aces, 227 digs as Hornets went 16-6 and two rounds deep into the playoffs.

S Alexis Chin, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

Ran Kenny’s offense very well. Had 853 assists. Second on state champion Crusaders in service aces (39) and digs (206).

OH Rachel Johnson, Ponte Vedra, Jr.

Second on Sharks in kills (189) and aces (40). Had 168 digs for state champs.

L Tina Nika, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

Had 497 digs, 48 aces and was a pivotal defensive piece for Class 4A state champion Crusaders.

MB Robinson Repass, Providence, So.

Second on team with 165 kills and nearly a lock to finish off an attack (49.8 kill percentage). Had 40 total blocks for 14-4 Stallions.

OH Elaina Reynolds, Ridgeview, Jr.

Had 232 kills to lead the 14-10 Panthers to the second round of the state playoffs. Also led the team in aces (32). Second on the team in digs (191).

MB Zeta Washington, Ponte Vedra, So.

All-News4Jax player of the year in 2019. Missed time with injury this season but finished third on the team in kills (149) and hit a team-best .461 among the regulars.

Honorable mention

Position, player, school, class

OH Grace Albaugh, Bolles, So.

S Gracie Arnett, St. Johns CD, Fr.

OH Bailey Chin, Bishop Kenny, Jr.

MB Izzy Collier, Creekside, Sr.

S Harper Cowen, Eagle’s View, Sr.

OH Jaycee Davis, Union County, So.

S Annie Dill, Bartram Trail, Jr.

OH Kami Eppley, Episcopal, Sr.

MB Mackenzie Flakus, Episcopal, Sr.

MB Emma Fraidenburg, Bishop Kenny, Sr.

S Ava Freel, Episcopal, Jr.

MB Sidney Gaudreault, Fletcher, Jr.

MB Alexandra Hennessey, Fletcher, Jr.

MB Jalana Hope, Oakleaf, Sr.

OH Christina Jackson, Yulee, Sr.

OH Ellie Jackson, Mandarin, Jr.

OH Mila Kavalieros, Bolles, Sr.

OH Amaria King, Trinity Christian, 8th

OH Kendall Mignerey, Ponte Vedra, Jr.

OH Gray Miller, Providence, Sr.

MB Maddie Moody, St. Johns CD, Sr.

OH Nadia Mortensen, Christ’s Church, Fr.

OH Jenna Otts, Bartram Trail, So.

MB/OH Jasmine Robinson, Fleming Island, Sr.

S Ella Schellenberg, Bolles, Sr.

MB Brooke Shiver, Bartram Trail, Sr.

OH Zoey Slack, Christ’s Church, Sr.


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.