The bay area always seems to be rich with volleyball talent, and this year is no exception. We think CCC, Tampa Prep and Bloomingdale have the best shots at bringing a state title back to Tampa Bay, but the other teams that make up our first HomeTeam 25 of the season will certainly give them a run for their money.
1. Clearwater Central Catholic (0-0)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, vs. Indian Rocks Christian
Lowdown: The Marauders get a late start to the season but have some challenging tournaments ahead. With six seniors returning, CCC has its sights set on a state championship.
2. Tampa Prep (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Weekend, at Academy of the Holy Names tournament
Lowdown: The Terrapins are returning five of six starters from a team that made its third straight trip to the region final last season. If any team is due, and experienced enough, for a final four berth, it’s Tampa Prep.
3. Bloomingdale (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Riverview; Thursday, vs. Wharton.
Lowdown: Led by one of Hillsborough County’s top players, Karissa Rhoades, the Bulls have yet to drop a single game in two preseason matches and a 3-0 rout of Steinbrenner, a 2013 state semifinalist.
4. Calvary Christian (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. St. Petersburg Catholic; Thursday, at Shorecrest
Lowdown: The Warriors started the season with an impressive 3-0 win over Berkeley Prep. They should cruise until a Sept. 9 match against CCC.
5. Steinbrenner (1-1)
Upcoming matches: Wednesday, at Wiregrass Ranch, Friday, at Academy of the Holy Names tournament.
Lowdown: The Warriors have won district titles all five years they’ve been a program, and last year they made a run to the state semifinal. With big hitter Avery Bradshaw returning, there’s no reason they couldn’t do it again.
6. Berkeley Prep (1-1)
Upcoming matches: Weekend, at AHN tournament
Lowdown: The Bucs may not have a stranglehold on top spot anymore after losing several starters, including Stanford signee Sidney Brown, but Berkeley Prep’s tradition means it’ll still likely be one of the teams to beat.
7. Plant (0-1)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, at Alonso
Lowdown: The 10-time state champion Panthers lost last year’s leading hitter, Kaitlyn Sibson, but Plant always seems to rebuild and make a playoff run. This year shouldn’t be any different.
8. Fivay (2-0)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, vs. Anclote
Lowdown: Fivay was one of the best teams on the North Suncoast last season, making it all the way to the region final. It should have another good year, but it’ll have to make do having lost more than 50 percent of its kills from last season.
9. Palm Harbor University (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, at Sarasota Riverview; Thursday, at Seminole
Lowdown: PHU can be awfully good this season. Several starters return, including senior middle hitter Jazmine Baker and senior setter Abby Walker.
10. Academy of the Holy Names (0-1)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Booker; weekend, host tournament.
Lowdown: The Jaguars have 6-foot-2 Georgia commit Courtney Vogler back for one more season, so as long as she can get a little help on offense, AHN could soar through a tough schedule this season.
11. Carrollwood Day (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, at Shorecrest; Thursday, at Brooks DeBartolo
Lowdown: Last season Carrollwood Day finished 23-3 but was upset by Bishop McLaughlin in the district tournament to miss the playoffs. Since the Patriots graduated just one senior, chances are they’ll be just as good — if not better — than last year, and they should be a playoff contender.
12. Seminole (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Northeast; Thursday, vs. Palm Harbor University
Lowdown: The Warhawks have a chance to overcome East Lake and Clearwater in 7A-9 this season. A non-district match against Palm Harbor U. will provide a good early-season test.
13. Indian Rocks Christian (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, at Seffner Christian; Thursday, at CCC
Lowdown: The Golden Eagles are a solid team, unfortunately they are in a district with CCC and Calvary Christian. Still, IRC can compete for a playoff spot this season.
14. Wiregrass Ranch (1-1)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, at Anclote; Wednesday, vs. Steinbrenner
Lowdown: If any team can put an end to Steinbrenner’s five-year district title streak, it’s the Bulls. But somebody will have to step up for Wiregrass Ranch. It finished a respectable 21-7 last season, led on offense by three seniors.
15. Bishop McLaughlin (1-0)
Upcoming matches: Sept. 10 vs. Weeki Wachee
Lowdown: The Hurricanes lost half of last year’s power-hitting duo, Alyssa Mathis and Aileen Hnatiuk. But Mathis, a San Diego State commit, will be back to help lead a Bishop McLaughlin team that’s focused on dominating a tough district.
16. Mitchell (1-1)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Osceola
Lowdown: Mitchell made it to the 6A region final a year ago, falling to Venice 3-0. With two Mustangs returning that had at least 100 kills last season, Mitchell should have the foundation to make another postseason run.
17. Sunlake (3-0)
Upcoming matches: Wednesday vs. Hudson; Thursday, at Gulf
Lowdown: A young Sunlake team missed last season’s playoffs, finishing 16-10. With another year under their belt, the Seahawks should only be able to go up from there. Early wins against Mitchell and Anclote point to a potentially promising season for Sunlake.
18. Anclote (2-1)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Wiregrass Ranch; Thursday, at Fivay
Lowdown: Anclote graduated two of its top three hitters from last season, ended in a 3-0 loss to county rival Fivay in the region semifinal. But middle hitter Marissa Niedermeyer returns, coming off a 2013 season in which she recorded 259 kills, 38 aces and 64 blocks.
19. Wharton (2-0)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, at Bloomingdale
Lowdown: Last season, the Wildcats finished a solid 17-9, but struggled in their own district and missed the playoffs. Their three leading hitters from last year return, though, including sophomore outside hitter Kathryn Attar, who finished the 2013 season with 277 kills.
20. Durant (0-0)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, vs. East Bay
Lowdown: The Cougars were one of the more fun teams to watch last season as they didn’t pick up their first loss until the playoffs. It’ll be tough for Durant to replicate that kind of success without Ole Miss signee Lexi Thompson, but the winning tradition is still there.
21. St. Petersburg (0-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Manatee; Thursday, at Northeast
Lowdown: The Green Devils are rebuilding a bit but still have enough talent to compete in District 8A-8. That will be tested right away against district foe Manatee.
22. Weeki Wachee (3-0)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, at Pasco; Wednesday, at River Ridge; Thursday, vs. Wesley Chapel
Lowdown: The Hornets finished 16-11 last season, the best result in the school’s short history. And with a 3-0 start to the season, it appears they could be on track to continue the improvements.
23. King (1-1)
Upcoming matches: Thursday, vs. Armwood
Lowdown: King didn’t have a single senior on its roster last season but still finished 7-0 in an eight-team 6A-9 district. Now that the young Lions are another year older, King could be able to accomplish that and more.
24. Hernando (2-0)
Upcoming matches: Wednesday, vs. Central; Thursday, at Central
Lowdown: Hernando earned 17 wins last season for the second time since 2010, and the flourishing program should be in a good position to win its second straight district title in 2014.
25. Robinson (1-2)
Upcoming matches: Tuesday, vs. Spoto; Thursday, at Sickles
Lowdown: Robinson lost much of its offensive production from a Cinderella run to the state final four last season. Still, the Knights know what it takes to get there.