By:  J. Daniel Pearson

Last season, the Osceola Kowboys broke through a glass ceiling by winning their first regional championship and advancing to the state Final Four. Although Osceola lost three key players to graduation, the Lady Kowboys are once again loaded this season and should be poised for another run at the Class 7A title.  Osceola is one of several talented teams in the county this season with high aspirations. With the 2023 season beginning, let’s take a look around the county:


Head Coach:  Pedro Davila

2022 Record:  9-4

Although head coach Pedro Davila graduated seven of his top 12 players off of last year’s 9-4 team, it’s a pretty good bet that the long-time highly successful club and high school coach will find a way to field a competitive team in 2023.  With All-OBC selections Bruna Braga-Manthozinho and Joharis Castillo departing via graduation, Davila is left with one returning starter – Lauren Perez – who will move from middle to outside hitter.  Celebration and Davila has always taken a “team first before individual accolades” approach and he simply said the Strom will have at least three freshmen in their 2023 starting lineup.  “We have some talent but we are going to be a young team.  It may take a year or two to gel, but our goal is to definitely be competitive this year.”


Head Coach Heidi Lizardi

2022 Record:  79

It will be a new beginning for the Gateway Panthers, as the roster is stacked with young players.  “We are definitely building this team for future successes,” Head Coach Heidi Lizardi says.  “Many of our top players this year are going to be freshmen and sophomores.”  That list includes a trio of freshmen in outside hitter Ivana Reyes, middle hitter Leslie Rivera and libero Leah Pagan.  Sophomore Amanda Cruz will also see considerable playing time.  Junior Kaitlyn Paulino (106 kills), Alondra Rivera (32 aces) and Alaina Rivera (23) are also returning veterans for the Panthers.


Head Coach Ryan Kading

2022 Record: 7-9

The Longhorns will feature a relative young team with only three seniors on the roster.  Kinzie James (OH, DS, S) and Martha Edwards (L, DS) are multi-sport junior standouts who led the flag football team to a district title last year.  They are returning letter winners and team leaders, having recorded 186 and 156 digs respectively.  James is an all-around athlete and will play multiple positions this year.  Edwards may be slowed in the early going, as she is coming off an ankle injury. Alana Asante had 40 solo blocks as a junior last year and at 6-foot tall should be a force at middle blocker for the Longhorns.  Adriana Amy will see action at both defensive specialist and libero.  Sophomore Nora Dunn is a top newcomer at setter.  “We are a team trying to climb a mountain,” Coach Ryan Kading said.  “We certainly want to compete at the highest levels in district and conference competition.”  


Head Coach Nino Andujar

2022 Record:  2-14

Improving on last year’s win total, working together and improving from week-to-week and day-to-day is the stated goal for the Liberty Chargers according to head coach Nino Andujar.  She will rely on senior captain outside hitter Monica Montes to lead her young squad.  Samantha Oyola (libero) and Meaghan McCarthy (RSH) secured varsity spots after playing JV last season; while Dinoshka Rivera – a transfer from Tohopekaliga – will most likely be the main setter for the team in 2023.


Head Coach: Carrie Palmi

2022 Record: 26-5

Coming off a 26-5 season where the Lady Kowboys are still stacked even though they said goodbye to three all-conference seniors.  “Despite graduating some talented players, we have the majority of our team back and also welcome some really exceptional newcomers.  This team is still young, still very talented and ready to make their own mark,” Head Coach Carrie Palmi said about his 2023 squad.  That talent includes Carrie’s daughter Cate.  As a freshman last year, she recorded 581 kills, 106 digs, and 58 aces in earning OBC Player of the Year and All-Area honors from the Orlando Sentinel. She is without question one of the top players in the state.  Alex Liggeri returns as another team leader after recording a school record 1023 assists last year.  Sophie Spivey posted 104 kills as an outside hitter and will be joined by Aryona Johnston, who switched to the right side hitter year, sophomore Dari Bravo (223 digs) saw extensive action last year as a freshman and her sister Andrea Bravo (149 digs) also return, they will both see time at defensive specialist and libero.  Brooklyn Sippio is the daughter of former Osceola standout Bobby Sippio, who played briefly in NFL before becoming a star in the Arena Football League.  Brooklyn is a 6-3 freshman and should become a force at middle blocker. Mikayla Mathews, another sophomore, will also factor in at middle blocker.  Coach Palmi describes her 2023 team as hungry.  “We had a taste last year and now we want to take it another couple of steps this year,” the veteran coach said.


Head Coach:  Richie Sanchez-Morales

2022 Record:  4-14

Injuries hit Poinciana hard last season, resulting in a sub-par season that the Eagles were not expecting.  Coach Richie Sanchez-Morales saw four of his top players graduate and calls 2023 a “rebuilding season.”

Senior captain Joselyn Bustamante is one of those players who was injured for a good portion of last year and Sanchez-Morales says that if the senior can stay healthy she has the potential to catch the eye of scouts and possibly play at the next level.  Junior Ana Rosado returns after missing last year and the DS/libero is expected to be a major contributor this season; as is sophomore setter Khia Pereira.  “Injuries derailed our season last year,” Sanchez-Morales said.  “We are going to have a young team this year but we are fortunate to have some talent.  Staying healthy and improving each day will be the key to having a good season.”

St. Cloud

Head Coach:  Ettie Singleton

2022 Record:  13-12

Veteran coach Ettie Singleton may face a bit of a rebuild this season after graduating three of her top four attack players, her top middle blocker, and her top setter.  Those four players combined for 427 kills, 143 total blocks, 519 digs and 501 assists.  Her top returning player is 5-8 senior Destiny Osborne, who posted 150 kills, 27 aces, and 212 digs in 2022.   Junior Karly Kuchinskas has 39 kills at middle block last year and senior libero/setter Tiffany Febus (200 digs) also returns.  Haley Collins (6-0, MB) and Danigzy Matilla, a pair of basketball standouts, may provide help to the St. Cloud lineup as they join the volleyball team for the first time. A pair of freshmen, Samantha Fernandez and Abigail Rivas, has earned spots on the varsity roster.  “This group has talent and a great energy level,” Singleton noted.  “We certainly look forward to challenging for conference and district titles this year.”


Head Coach:  Hiram Padilla

2022 Record:  16-8

Although coming off a successful 16-8 campaign, school administration decided to make a coaching change — turning the girls’ volleyball team over to Hiram Padilla, co-founder/owner of the Florida International Volleyball Academy. Padilla will have a solid corps of players to build his program around, including OH Danna Aquilera, OH/DS Ileana Rodriguez, OH/MH Sophia Bou and setter Nyah Moore.  Padilla also has a bevy of young players in his program who will be fighting for playing time at both the varsity and junior varsity levels.   In addition, talented players Angelis Figueroa (Gateway) and Kamyla Vega (Harmony) have transferred to Tohopekaliga.  “We certainly have some talent in the program and we also have the depth to make it very competitive,” Padilla said.  “We are looking forward to having a good season.”

The county championship will be determined this year by the Orange Belt Conference bracket-style tournament, Oct. 2-5.

Photo Source: Christian Maldonaldo