JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It is not only on the back of their team shirts, it is in the front of their minds every day as well.
According to head coach Debbie Christian and her team, the bond that this year's girls have created is the key to their success so far this year. They are one game away from a state championship and say that that tight-knit bond is a big reason why.
"They love each other, they play hard for each other, they go the extra mile for each other, they hold each other accountable just like a family would," says Christian in her fourth year as the Eagles head volleyball coach. "That makes them unique in the sense that they truly care about each other and they will do anything to win for each other."
Senior Emma Russell sees a direct correlation between the relationship she and her teammates have developed and the position they are in to make school history.
"Family has been everything for us." says Russell. "I've played here for four years and we have lost seniors and gained freshmen. To see those relationships grow over the last four years, to see girls that started with me when we were freshmen, we are now seniors. The leadership that comes with that and the relationship building, I think that is everything to our success.
Last week in the class 3A state semifinals Christ's Church needed every ounce of those relationships as Tampa Bay HEAT took them to five sets for the first time in almost two years before besting them 15-10 in the final set to advance to the championship game Thursday at 1PM. Senior libero Rachel McLanahan says that the hard work they put in before the final set won them the match.
"We worked so hard and have been training so much for this. We conditioned, we practiced everyday so we are prepared for five sets even if we never have to play that last set," said McLanahan.
Christ's Chruch will face First Baptist Academy from Naples on Thursday at the UNF Arena. While the Lions have a five-and-a-half hour bus ride up I-75 to Jacksonville for the game, the Eagles have a 20-minute car ride and see that as a big advantage coming into the biggest game of the year.
"It is such an advantage for us," says Russell. Driving 20 minutes away to play in a place that we have played before, being able to be in our own beds, being able to have a pep rally at the school is a huge blessing and a huge help. We have the best fans ever and for them to be able to come, I'm really thankful for that."
Two other area schools will also play for state championships at UNF this week as Union County will face Sneads on Friday at 1PM for the class 1A state title. In class 6A Ponte Vedra will face Bishop Moore of Orlando for the championship Saturday at 10 AM.