After four tightly contested, grind-it-out games — that was the thought racing through Ryan Davenport’s head as he watched Julia Denby throw down the match-ending kill that delivered the Gulf Breeze Dolphins another district championship.
The senior middle — a cornerstone of the program all three of her years on the varsity squad — had done it again.
“That’s exactly what went through my head whenever she killed that ball,” said Davenport, in his first-year as the Dolphins’ head coach. “It’s an appropriate ending to a long grind.”
Top-seeded Gulf Breeze locked up its sixth district championship in seven years on Thursday as it defeated the No. 2-seed and host Washington Wildcats 20-25, 25-19, 25-16 and 25-15.
“Both teams came out really, really strong,” said Kelly Comerford, Washington coach. “I felt like we were on par as far as intensity level, energy level — It was a back-and-forth, really hard-fought match on both sides. We gave ourselves opportunities to win and we kept getting down by a few and then coming back.
“At the end of the day we just made a few too many mistakes and they out-executed us on the small things.”
In a match that boasted 18 ties and seven lead changes, Denby’s title-clinching kill was one of the biggest.
“The last set I felt like I was really on top of my game,” the senior said. “It was crazy to get the last kill, it felt amazing.
“When I saw it, it was perfect. It was like ‘Oh, this is it’ and then it hit the floor. I was so happy, it was so exciting.”
Denby finished the night with two aces, three blocks, four digs and two kills.
And, while the senior’s title-clinching kill was the biggest of the night, there is no denying what the rest of the squad brought to the table as Maddie Grace McCurdy turned in a team-high 12 kills and Mady Smith dished out 12 assists.
“They worked hard for this one,” Davenport said. “Even off the bench, this is a total team effort right here. These girls, we’re only as good as our last person on the bench so it’s a full team effort. I had to make some adjustments after that first set, had some people step in and they did a great job.”
Now both teams will turn their attention to the Region 1-6A quarterfinals as Gulf Breeze hosts Fort Walton Beach and Washington travels to 2-6A runner-up Choctawhatchee. Both games are set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
District 1-6A Championship
GULF BREEZE def. WASHINGTON
20-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-15
Washington (17-9) – Teah Wiley 14 kills, 24 digs, 2 blocks, ace; Taya Mata 8 kills, 3 digs, block; Bree Kelly 8 kills, 6 digs; Kortney Way 7 kills, dig, block; Samantha Yonehiro 28 assists, kill, 6 digs; Julie Grissett 10 assists, 3 digs; Selena Williams 18 digs, assist; Marlis Herrick 10 digs, kill; Sophia Madison 2 kills, dig, block; Mackenzie Simmons kill; Paula Bernstein dig.
Gulf Breeze (22-4) – Allison Von Brock 2 assists, 7 digs; Kiersten Ellis 4 digs; Amber Hartley kill, block, 2 assists, 2 digs; Mady Smith 13 assists, 6 digs; Olivia Hepworth ace, 6 kills, 3 blocks, 2 assists, 5 digs; Macall Massey kill; Jordan Taylor ace, 3 kills, 5 blocks; Sadie Baltz 3 kills, assist, dig; Maddie Grace McCurdy ace, 12 kills, block, 6 digs; Olivia Kudrna 6 assists, 3 digs; Mae Ward ace, kill; Julia Denby 2 aces, 2 kills, 3 blocks, 4 digs.
Want to go?
•WHO: Fort Walton Beach at Gulf Breeze; Washington at Choctawhatchee
•WHAT: Region 1-6A Quarterfinals.
•WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
•WHERE: Gulf Breeze High School; Choctawhatchee High School.