HOLIDAY — The girls in royal blue crouched in front of a banner with four smiling faces and the words “Senior Night” printed across the top. Parents gathered with iPads, cameras and phones, and someone called out to “Coach V,” beckoning him to join them.
At one edge, a junior smiled before anyone else and held the grin after the others let theirs drop.
When the coach stood, her smile turned into a grimace to stretch the muscles. She rubbed her cheeks with both hands, opening and closing her mouth.
For Marissa Niedermeyer, senior night elicited a confusing mix of emotions.
“These girls have been with me all four years,” she said. “Next year, without them …” she trailed off. “It’s detrimental.”
Niedermeyer is nervous about the coming year. She will be one of Anclote’s leaders as a senior, and not just because of her age.
She’s earned 159 kills, 77 digs and 40 solo blocks, putting up some of Anclote’s best numbers this year. The Sharks are ranked just behind Fivay in Class 5A-8 with a 6-1 record in district play.
Coach Chris Verngaud said Niedermeyer knew the Sharks would rely on her as their go-to middle this year. Niedermeyer knew as a sophomore she would need to improve to help her team with the senior middle hitter graduating.
She trained and, he said, blossomed during the offseason. Joining the Pinellas Heat, he said, vastly improved her play.
“And I’m not just saying that because I work with them,” he added with a laugh.
Niedermeyer made the varsity team as a sophomore, only a few years after learning the game. Her mother had played high school volleyball, but Niedermeyer said she tried several sports before she made a commitment.
Track was okay, but she didn’t love it. Basketball was too aggressive.
She smiled and rested her hands on her hips. “I’m not an aggressive person. That’s not me at all.”
Niedermeyer started learning volleyball fundamentals in sixth grade, and she knew. This was the one.
Another draw was the family dynamic she observed among volleyball teams. Niedermeyer’s younger sister plays with her on varsity, but she said she views everyone on the team like a sister.
Niedermeyer doesn’t want to stop with the Sharks and an impressive high school career, though. She doesn’t shy away from questions about college, as many high school juniors do. More than anything, she wants to be recruited by a D-I school.
“I can see myself going there,” she said, her tone steady. “I can work for it.”
Verngaud knows Niedermeyer’s dream is to play at the Olympic level. Keeping that image in her head has driven her through training, playing and the offseason, he said.
For now, though, her focus remains with the Sharks.
Niedermeyer said the older girls on the team were excellent models of leadership. They were easy to talk to, and no one was afraid to come to them with questions or seeking advice. That will be her, next year.
She has never led anyone …
“But,” Niedermeyer said, “I think I’ll be pretty good at it.”
7A-8 at Freedom
Tuesday: No. 4 Sickles vs. No. 5 Gaither, 7; Wednesday: No. 1 Steinbrenner (1) vs. Sickles-Gaither winner, 6; No. 3 Freedom vs. No. 2 Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30; Friday: final, 7
6A-10 at Osceola
Monday: No. 4 Largo vs. No. 5 Dixie Hollins, 6; Tuesday: No. 2 Osceola vs. No. 3 Springstead, 6; No. 1 Mitchell vs. Largo-Dixie Hollins winner, 8; Thursday: Final, 7
5A-7 at Weeki Wachee
Monday: No. 4 Central vs. No. 5 Nature Coast, 4; No. 3 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 6 Zephyrhills, 5:30; No. 2 Weeki Wachee vs. No. 7 Pasco, 7; Tuesday: No. 1 Hernando vs. Central-Nature Coast winner, 5; Weeki-Pasco winner vs. Wesley Chapel-Zephyrhills winner, 7; Thursday: final, 7
5A-8 at Anclote
Monday: No. 1 Fivay vs. No. 8 Gulf, 6; No. 2 Anclote vs. No. 7 Land O’Lakes, 8; Tuesday: No. 4 Dunedin vs. No. 5 River Ridge, 6; No. 3 Sunlake vs. No. 6 Tarpon Springs, 8; Wednesday: Fivay-Gulf winner vs. Dunedin-River Ridge winner, 6; Anclote-Land O’Lakes winner vs. Sunlake-Tarpon winner, 8; Thursday: final, 7
4A-6 at Hudson
Monday: No. 4 Ridgewood vs No. 5 South Sumter, 7; Wednesday: No. 1 Trinity Catholic vs. Ridgewood/SS winner, 6; No. 2 Villages vs. No. 3 Hudson, 7:30; Friday: final, 7
3A-7 at Tampa Prep
Monday: No. 5 Brooks-DeBartolo vs. No. 4 Seffner Christian, 6; Tuesday: No. 3 Bishop McLaughlin vs. No. 2 Carrollwood Day, 5; No. 1 Tampa Prep vs. Seffner-BD winner, 6:30; Thursday: final, 6:30
2A-7 at Academy at the Lakes
Tuesday: No. 3 AATL vs. No. 2 Cambridge Christian, 6; Thursday: No. 1 Tampa Bay HEAT vs. Cambridge, AATL winner, 7
2A-8 at Keswick Christian
Monday: No. 4 Hernando Christian vs. No. 5 Citrus Park Christian, 5; No. 3 Bayshore Christian vs. No. 6 Lakeside Christian, 6:30; Tuesday: No. 2 Canterbury vs. Bayshore-Lakeside winner, 5; No. 1 Keswick Christian vs. HCA-Citrus Park winner, 6:30; Thursday: final, 6:30
Mary Kenney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @maryknews.