TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — This Saturday, two Tallahassee volleyball programs will compete in their respective classifications State Final Four.
For one, it's a place they haven't been in almost a decade. For the other, it's familiar territory. For both, they're just two wins away from a state title.
For six straight seasons, the Leon High School volleyball program has made it to the Final Four.
"We always have a target on our back, we know that," said Angie Strickland, the head volleyball coach at Leon. "We prepare that in the gym every day."
For the defending Class 6A State Champs, the Final Four, and beyond, is their goal every year.
"We've been here before, but it's a different year, it's a different team," said Alexa Washington, a Leon junior. "We're playing different teams. We're just working on us and just working together. Especially with Corona, this is all uncharted territory."
"I said it from the very beginning, there are no excuses," Strickland said. "If these are the lofty goals you want, you're going to have to work incredibly hard. You're going to have to pay your dues."
Dues paid. Leon is two wins away from a repeat title and 7.5 miles away at St. John Paul II, the Panthers are two wins away from winning their first.
"Mentality right now it's do or die," said Emily Serpico, the head volleyball coach at St. John Paul II. "We know if we don't get better, we won't survive."
The Panthers were State Runners-up in 2009. After back-to-back trips to the Final Four in 2011 and 2012, they're glad to be back.
"Honestly, I don't think it's hit me yet," said Sam Taylor, a St. John Paul II junior. "I'm ready for it to hit. We've all really come together as a team this year. We know we're strong. We're ready for any competition."
"We are battle-tested," Serpico said. "Battle-tested during the season. We've played tough teams in town. Every loss we've had, we've learned something from it."
They've learned enough to be one of the Final Four left standing.
"It's a great opportunity," said Serpico. "It's a dream as a coach to take your team this far."
"I think we've really come together as a team, and we're blossoming right now," Washington said.
Blossoming to another win, and, hopefully, one more after that.
Leon is at Saint Petersburg in the Class 6A State Semifinals while the Panthers are at Geneva in Class 2A.