SPRING HILL — When volleyball practice began earlier this month, Springstead had several key pieces in place for a successful season — senior leaders, an all-area player and confidence left over from the Eagles’ best season.
Only one thing was missing: a coach.
“We were ready to go,” senior setter Allyson Schillinger said. “We had the best team ever, and now we don’t have a coach.”
Coach Darcy Hinton left the team in the spring. The Eagles suffered through more than a decade of losing seasons before rebounding under Hinton and breaking through with a 17-8 record last year. Springstead made its first trip to regionals and earned a runnerup finish at district.
More was expected this year, thanks to key returning players like Schillinger and senior middle hitters Megan Morrison and Zoe Mannino.
“Change is inevitable,” Mannino said. “You have to embrace it as it comes.”
And the Eagles did — even without a coach.
Springstead organized its own varsity and JV practices for the first two weeks. Parents and an assistant coach helped out, as the Eagles tried not to fall too far behind.
“We missed a lot time that other teams had,” Mannino said.
Their wait ended last week, when Tim Harris took over as coach.
The 24-year veteran of club coaching officially started Monday. By Wednesday, he was passing out uniforms and tweaking arm warmups for his new team.
“A new coach has new stuff to bring to the table,” Morrison said.
Harris hadn’t coached high school volleyball in years since leaving his job as a Berkeley Prep assistant. After meeting with Eagles athletic director Bob Levija, Harris said he realized how committed the school is to building a strong volleyball program.
When he heard more about players organizing their own practices and working on specific game situations, he recognized that the team is serious about it, too.
“The girls really took it on themselves to try to get as ready as they could by themselves,” Harris said.
Harris has tried to embrace Springstead’s routines and is still getting to know its players. He said Schillinger runs the team’s offense well, and Mannino has the athleticism and size to become a very productive player.
Morrison was a second-team all-North Suncoast pick last fall. The Alaska-Fairbanks commit led the team in kills and aces but missed three weeks with a severe ankle injury last fall, prompting the Eagles to drop six out of nine contests.
She returned just in time for Springstead’s loss to Riverview in the first round of regionals.
“That was an experience,” Morrison said. “It proves we can go as far as we want.”
With Harris’ credentials and key returning players, Springstead isn’t worried about the lost practice reps from the coaching change.
The Eagles have the entire regular season to rebound from a slow start and focus on another playoff run.
“From what I’ve seen so far, our expectations should be high,” Harris said.
“Now we’re taking it to the next step.”
Other players to watch
Courtney Liddle, Nature Coast: The 2010 North Suncoast Player of the Year had 569 kills last year and led the Sharks with 106 aces. Expect the outside hitter to star again during her senior season.
Lauren Powell, Nature Coast: All-North Suncoast first-teamer was one of the area’s top setters, with a North Suncoast-best 8.7 assists a game.
Teresa Della Penna, Land O’Lakes: The senior setter/outside hitter led the Gators in aces and assists last year. She’ll be one of the leaders for Land O’Lakes in what’s expected to be a rebuilding year.
Jessica Johnson, Bishop McLaughlin: The outside hitter was an all-North Suncoast pick last year after recording 328 kills and 201 aces for the Hurricanes as a junior. She — and Bishop McLaughlin — could be in for even bigger things this fall.
Kaitlyn Blount, Zephyrhills: The senior middle/outside hitter is a strong player who had a good junior season. Blount and Sierra Bahr will be the Bulldogs’ top seniors on a veteran team.