The volleyball teams are the guinea pigs!
They get to be the first team sport to put the state’s new playoff criteria into motion. New districts were drawn up over the offseason but the teams in them don’t have to play each other anymore. A rather secret MaxPreps formula will be used to seed teams going into the district tournaments – making it necessary for schools to have the flexibility to play teams that will beef up their strength of schedule, or play teams closer to their ability levels to have a better record at the end of the year that will also help their rating.
“I think it’s interesting, a lot of good can come out of this,” longtime Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said. “Teams are encouraged to play a sound schedule in case you don’t win your district (tournament).”
The volleyball teams will also be the first ones to also play the new Orange Belt Conference tournament for team sports. The eight county schools will be seeded 1-8 by MaxPreps. After first-round matches on Sept. 23, teams will be split into winners and losers brackets and play on Sept. 24 and 26 to determine a champion and second through eighth place.
Here’s a capsule on the county’s teams:
Sophomores Evaisabel Davila -Morales and Paola Fergonezi lead the way, with senior influence from Cameron Junk, Sabrina Binet, Isabella Vegas and Mariana Mattozinho. Pedro Davila, a veteran of Central Florida’s club volleyball scene, coaches the Storm.
The Bulldogs were 21-8, ran undefeated through county play to clinch the OBC title, and won their district semifinal to earn a playoff spot.
The team lost just one senior to graduated, and with the new District 6A-10, with Harmony, Poinciana, Liberty, Bayside, Melbourne, Viera and Winter Haven in it – no longer having state-ranked Hagerty in the district or East Ridge in the region – means Coach Ettie Singleton’s team could be loaded up for a deeper playoff run.
There’s still only one senior on the team, Abbie Tutor, who is joined in the “hit squad” with juniors Brooke Singleton, Aniesha Neff, Kaylee Tutor, Emmanuella Ojukwu and Jazmin Santiago. Junior Eno Inyang and sophomore Paige Alise are blockers who can also pound the ball to the floor.
“It’s a lot of the same kids from last year who all got bigger and stronger,” Singleton said. “Now we can play more of a power game.”
Junior Jessie Gallagher is the setter, and Yeishlanie Reyes and Jessica Henkel play the back line.
St. Cloud hosted its annual preseason jamboree last week, and looked pretty darn good in wins over Liberty, Cypress Creek and Lakeland.
“I was pretty happy with what I saw,” Singleton said. “If we keep getting better, and that’s what I preach, getting better every practice and every time you take the floor, I hope we can have a really good season.”
The Kowgirls won their fourth consecutive District 9A-5 championship last year, but the state has consolidated back to seven classes this year, and OHS finds itself in 7A-6 with Celebration, Plant City Durant, Haines City, Ridge and Tampa Newsome.
Coach Carrie Palmi’s team lost a couple of key starters to graduation but bring back the county’s leading hitter, senior Allison Palmi (Carrie’s daughter), middle blocker Melina Spencer and setter Janleen De Jesus.
They’ll be helped by freshmen with club volleyball credentials, and they could slide into the starting lineup: libero Eimy Negron, outside hitter Kaitlyn Taylor and middle blocker Ahnika Johnston. Sophomore hitter Yaraleis Lopez is sandwiched in the middle.
“If everything comes together, this could be our strongest team since 2015,” said Palmi, noting they went 29-1 that season and didn’t lose until the regional playoffs final.
The Kowgirls opened the season Monday with a four-set win over talented Sebring.
The Longhorns won’t have to bump into Hagerty anyone, but this year the team’s biggest opponent will be themselves, as eight of 11 varsity players from 2018 have graduated. Two of the returnees are juniors, outside hitter Autumn Rogers and libero Yulie Torres.
“The rest of the team is youthful talent,” Coach Travis Foster said. “We are a team this year that plans to communicate more and work harder than everyone we play.”
The middle (sophomore Alanys Rodriguez and freshman Drea Thompson) will have a new look, as well the defensive unit led by Torres, Coral Bosques, Adriana Marerro, and Alex Milazzo.
The Tigers will be better in their second season, but have a tough task to get through their district; they were dropped into 7A-5 with Cypress Creek, Freedom, Lake Nona, Dr. Phillips, Olympia and Windermere.
Still, Coach Eric Capestany’s team may measure up. They defeated Viera, one of the better teams from 6A-10, in last week’s preseason jamboree, and everyone returns from an inaugural team that won just three matches but played Osceola, St. Cloud and Celebration all tough.
“We kept the team together and had a huge summer,” said Capestany, noting a team camp at the University of Tampa.
Juniors Jeila Fullerton, who played in Junior Olympic camp over the summer, and Thamely Santos led the Toho hit squad, and put it on display against Viera. Yaceliz Rivera is a capable libero, sophomore Arianna Warner and senior Vaiden Capestany are the setters, and Josibeth Capellan, Kim Morales, Paige Patterson are part of the Tigers’ top rotation.
The Panthers, who have bumped down to 5A, go into battle in 5A-11, which includes Palm Bay, Jones, Hertiage, Eau Gallie, Bayside, Rockledge and Merritt Island, with a new head coach, as former coach Heidi Lazardi will work with GHS’ freshman squad.
Pedro Davila, a veteran of the local club scene who has done wonders for both the Storm’s girls and boys programs, called it “like another Christmas” when told of the new District 7A-6.
“We should do well in that, I’m excited,” he said.
Coach Wilfredo Cruz takes the Chargers into battle in District 6A-10.
Coach Aubrey Lowe takes the Eagles into battle in District 6A-10.
City of Life
The Warriors, under second-year coach Lynnsey Glunt, are in District 2A-7 with Winter Park Geneva (the reigning 2A state champion), Orlando Christian Prep, Faith Christian and International Community.
Josie and Camila De Pool are the lone returning players, and newcomers are young, including eighth grader Alejandra Rosado and diminutive seventh-grade libero Natalia Morris.
The rest of the roster features senior Janelisse Marty, juniors Alli Carvelle and Paola Galarza, and freshman Evy Rodrigeuz and Valerie Rodriguez.
Early-Season Exciting Volleyball Matches: (some of which have already taken place)
Tuesday: Harmony at Osceola, St. Cloud at Gateway
Wednesday: Tohopekaliga at Liberty
Thursday: Viera at Harmony
Aug. 27: St. Cloud at Osceola
Aug. 29: Tohopekaliga at Poinciana
Sept. 3: Gateway at Osceola
Sept. 10: St. Cloud at Harmony
Sept. 12: Harmony at Tohopekaliga