TARPON SPRINGS — Last season, Mike Estes sat with the rest of the spectators on a cold, metal riser, an anonymous face amid a sea of them, watching as his daughter, Brittnay, and her East Lake teammates first won a district title, then a region title and finally the school’s first state volleyball title.
This season, his view will be much better. And his seat more comfortable.
Estes is a veteran softball guru. He has been in the Eagles’ dugout the past four seasons, guiding them to two straight state semifinal appearances, and he has been an even more permanent fixture on the travel softball scene.
During the offseason, East Lake principal Bob Poth approached Estes about pulling double duty. The Eagles needed a new volleyball coach after Terry Small stepped down following the team’s victory over Stuart Martin County in the Class 5A championship, a result of an Florida High School Athletic Association investigation that led to an $11,125 fine for East Lake and the forfeiture of games from the 2009 season.
Estes knew little about volleyball, other than what he’d picked up when watching oldest daughter Lyndsie, now an assistant on the team, then Brittnay suit up for the Eagles.
But he was receptive to the idea. He stalled Poth, kicked it around in his head a while, thought about the chance to coach his daughter before she goes off to play Division I-A volleyball at Lipscomb University.
That was the tipping point.
On Tuesday, East Lake will start its repeat bid, opening the 2011 season at Lakewood with Estes occupying the first seat on the Eagles’ bench.
And after graduating only two seniors and returning five of six starters, Estes might be about as involved as he was a year earlier watching from the stands.
“The kids are teaching me,” he said. “They know more about what they’re doing most of the time than I do. The only thing I can really help them on is the athleticism, the mental part of the game. That’s basically what my job here is with this team; unlock the gym, get the lineup right and just manage their time. That’s about it.”
Once again, the Eagles are stacked. Brittnay Estes is a violent outside hitter who can strike the ball as well as anyone in the area. The cerebral Jackie Wegner is “always doing what she’s supposed to do,” Estes says. Senior middle hitter Brianna McComeskey brings height and athleticism and rounds out the greatest trio of frontline offensive firepower in the county.
Rachel Reed is a three-year returning starter at setter. Brooke Burkett was outstanding at last year’s state finals, and Jess Steidl is one of the best defensive specialist’s around.
“Our whole starting lineup could probably go Division I,” Brittnay Estes said. “We have a very athletic team.”
The transition from Small to Estes has been a smooth one, part of the reason Poth cornered Estes in the first place. The Eagles needed a
stable presence who could keep the program moving in its current direction, not one who would rock a talented, already established boat.
“There for a while, we had no idea who the coach was going to be,” McComeskey said. “But I talked to some of the softball girls, and they all said he was a great coach. I think if you have that coaching style, it doesn’t really matter what sport you’re in. I think it’s just being a good coach in general.”
For the past two seasons, East Lake came within a whisker of winning a state softball championship under Estes. How ironic would it be for Estes to finally capture a title in volleyball?
“Yeah, I have thought about that one,” he said, chuckled, then added: “I’m sure I could deal with that.”
Other top teams
Canterbury: 2010 state semifinalists, the Crusaders are one of the title favorites in Class 2A. A pair of seniors, Megan Burgess and Mansie Hough, provide attacking options, and junior Lacy Scherer is an all-around talent who plays great defense.
Clearwater: Tornadoes are in flux after losing eight seniors and bringing in six new sophomores. Plus, they’re stuck in a district that, top to bottom, is the strongest in the county. But they return player of the year candidate Nikki O’Rourke and add a handful of talented underclassmen.
Clearwater Central Catholic: Marauders have two top-notch setters in Megan Miller and Casey Moore plus one of the county’s best attackers in Kalyn Baird. Morgan O’Brien is a senior who can play anywhere on the court.
Indian Rocks Christian: Golden Eagles might be the county’s tallest team with 6-foot-2 middle Madison Loebel and 6-foot outside Emiline Lazzeri. They also return five starters and no longer have to go through Tampa Prep to make it out of the region
Palm Harbor University: Hurricanes lost some firepower with the graduation of Leah McNary and Chelsea King, but they’ll be one of the best defensive teams around. Seniors Caitlyn Kovach and Sammy Eichelberger have been in the program for years and are ready to take over.
Players to watch
OH Kalyn Baird, Sr., CCC: Tallied impressive kill totals in 2010.
MH Hannah Glover, Sr., Countryside: Improvement from a year ago has been a pleasant surprise for a young Cougars’ lineup.
S Zoe Green, Sr., St. Petersburg: Will be counted on to provide stability for an inexperienced but promising Green Devils squad.
OH Mansie Hough, Sr., Canterbury: Led team in kills in 2010 and will be expected to pace the Crusaders once again this season.
Lib Caitlyn Kovach, Sr., Palm Harbor University: Defensive standout has one of the area’s best serves.
MH Marissa Lisenbee, Sr., Seminole: Has the ability to take over a match and is looking to lead the Warhawks back to the playoffs for first time since 2007.
MH Madison Loebel, Sr., Indian Rocks Christian: Swings with a heavy arm and shows great movement for her height.
MH Ashlyn McGregor, Jr., Tarpon Springs: 6-foot-1 blocker is receiving interest from several D-I programs, according to coach Patrick Sneed.
OH Elizabeth McMaster, Jr., Northeast: Oldest of three front-row attackers pushing 6 feet who will try to win a third straight district title for Vikings.
OH Morgan O’Malia, Sr., Osceola: Can end a point from anywhere on the court and is the leader of an upstart Osceola program.
OH Nikki O’Rourke, Sr., Clearwater: One of only two seniors for Clearwater, O’Rourke, a highly-active attacker, will play for Florida next season
OH Berkley Whaley, Sr., Lakewood: Florida commit is one of the best the county’s ever produced.