Oak Hall Eagles volleyball team heads to state final four

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The Oak Hall School girls volleyball team is two wins away from claiming its third state title in school history.

While the school made it to the state playoffs in 2014, Oak Hall has not won a playoff volleyball game in 11 years. Its last playoff titles were in 1999 and 1997, when former head coach Cari Martin led the Eagles.

Since Martin’s departure in 2013, the volleyball program has gone through three coaches. In 2020, Perry McDonald took over the program.

McDonald, 50, was a baseball player growing up. After high school, he played at Randolf-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. He earned a master’s in education at the University of Florida.

Volleyball was just something McDonald did for fun in college.

“I played a lot of two-person sand volleyball in college,” he said. “I simply enjoyed the sport.”

The Virginia native would pick up a teaching job at Eastside High School in Gainesville in 1996. The biology teacher had been in discussion with the baseball coach and planned to help out in the spring. However, when the athletic director made an announcement that the junior varsity girls volleyball team needed an assistant coach, McDonald decided to give it a try.

“I figured maybe this is a great way to get my feet wet coaching volleyball,” McDonald said.

After the season, the assistant JV coach was promoted to lead the varsity team. McDonald said he hated coaching volleyball his first year.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I made a lot of rookie coaching mistakes.”

Despite that, McDonald helped the JV team achieve a winning record – the first in program history.

In 2002, McDonald retired from Eastside to pursue a career in real estate. However, when he got a call to become the head volleyball coach at P.K. Yonge, he answered. The Blue Wave made the playoffs every year he was there, from 2003 to 2010.

In 2010, McDonald walked away from coaching for 10 years to attend to his family, but when his daughter was accepted into Oak Hall, he said he was asked to step in.

“I was informed that the varsity volleyball coach had resigned and that they needed somebody,” he said.

McDonald shows his players how to hit the ball after a practice set. (Trey Johnson/WUFT News)

McDonald said he knew at some point he would be asked to get involved with Oak Hall’s volleyball program. He just figured it would be after his daughter’s first day of class.

In 2020, McDonald and the Eagles were 6-10. Senior middle blocker Cate Cannon, 17, said last year was rough.

“Last year there were so many precautions to take with COVID,” she said. “We never knew when the season was really going to end.”

McDonald also said that being one of the smallest schools under the 3A classification, which is schools that have 361 to 739 students, as another setback.

This year, the school dropped to the 2A classification, where it is considered an average sized school, with 235 high school students. The 2A classification is for schools with fewer than 360 students.

With a record of 21-8, the Eagles have made an unexpected deep playoff run. On Saturday, the Eagles defeated Harvest Community High School in four sets to punch their ticket to the final four.

It helps that there are three sets of sisters on the team.

Senior right side hitter Emi Scorpio, 17, knows she can count on her sister, Ave, on the court.

“Volleyball is a mental game,” Emi Scorpio said. “I think a lot of volleyball is being able to depend on other people. I’ve always been able to count on her [Ave].”

Cannon, who does not have a sister on the team, said that the whole team acts like family.

“I think as a whole, we all consider each other to be somewhat like sisters,” she said. “That family bond has allowed us to grow in our faith in each other. That’s the reason we’ve been able to achieve so much together.”

On Saturday, the Eagles will travel to Naples to play Seacrest Country Day at 2 p.m. While the goal is to win, the team is just enjoying the moment.

“I think it’s pretty cool that none of us have ever had this experience,” Cannon said. “We’re all getting to do it together for the first time.”

Oak Hall players and coaches hug their relatives after practice. From left to right: Lexi and Sydney Jurecko; Nicolete Aulisio who is hugging herself because her sister, Sophia, was not there; Emi and Ave Scorpio; and Perry and Cassidy McDonald. (Trey Johnson/WUFT News)

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