SRHS Boys Volleyball Falls At State Finals After Historic Season

The Seminole Ridge High School boys volleyball team at the FHSAA state finals. Photos by Richard Areyzaga Jr.

This year’s Seminole Ridge High School boys volleyball team has set the bar high for future editions of the team. Under the guidance of head coach Scott Barnwell, the Hawks won every game at home and reached the district championship game. The team then went on to win the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) regional championship and was one of eight teams to qualify for the Class 1A state finals, held May 17-18 at Polk State College in Winter Haven.

On Friday, May 17, the Hawks traveled to Winter Haven to play the Wildcats from Winter Park High School in the state quarterfinal match. Seminole Ridge played well, but not well enough to win against the eventual state champions. Winter Park won in four sets (25-22, 23-25, 25-17, 25-22).

According to Barnwell, the first and fourth games could have easily gone the other way.

“For the most part, it was a match where it was decided by a point here and a point there,” he recalled. “In the fourth game, we were tied 23-23 late in the game, and Winter Park was able to win those last two points to win the match.”

One of Seminole Ridge’s key impact players was senior middle blocker and hitter Brandon Burke, who was not at his best in Winter Haven. The 6-foot-8 Burke was injured in the regional final win against the King’s Academy on May 14, three days before the Winter Park match. Burke played in the game, but he was a shadow of how he played in the regular season.

“Brandon injured his ankle in the regional final,” Barnwell said. “He played in the game against Winter Park, but he was not 100 percent. It’s tough losing a middle blocker and hitter who is so tall. Had we defeated Winter Park, he would not have played the following day in the state semifinals.”

Barnwell was philosophical about the loss.

“It was a great experience for all of us at the state finals,” he said. “The boys will remember this for the rest of their lives.”

Two other seniors who had standout seasons this spring were Owen Holowecky and Jonathan Benitez.

At 6-foot-4, Holowecky was Seminole Ridge’s top performer and is headed to Long Island University to continue playing volleyball. According to Barnwell, Holowecky is immensely talented and has a team-first attitude.

“Owen is so humble and a very good volleyball player, who can set, block and go for the kill,” Barnwell said. “He has been recruited to be a setter in college, but he’s so good that you can’t afford to take him off the court.”

Holowecky led Seminole Ridge in kills, kills per set, hitting percentage, serving aces and aces per set.

Benitez is only 5-foot-9, but he is a cerebral player. “Jonathan is a very smart volleyball player,” Barnwell said. “He knows all the ins and outs of the game.”

Both Benitez and Burke are expected to attend St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens to continue their education and play men’s college volleyball at the NAIA level.

Seminole Ridge finished its season with a 23-8 record.