RIVERVIEW — It’s just 25 minutes — and one water break — into practice, and as first-year Riverview coach Kristin Grosso tosses volleyballs across the net every 10 seconds she yells to her players:
“Are you tired yet?”
They answer no in unison while never losing sight of the balls in play.
For the newly crowned district champion Sharks, there’s no better time to be on the court. They’ve already made history and are eager to continue their memorable season.
“We’re all pumped,” senior defensive specialist Caitlin Baker said. “I don’t think words can describe how excited we are.”
Before this season began, the seniors told themselves this could be the year. Being lodged in one of Hillsborough County’s most competitive districts would be difficult, and unseating district favorite Durant would be a tougher challenge, but Riverview had optimism on its side — and all but one player returning from last year’s team.
“We called it from Day One,” Baker said.
For the most part, the Sharks (17-6) flew under the radar in Class 5A-8, but when it mattered the most Riverview played its best game, avenging a three-game September loss to Durant to beat the top-seeded Cougars in Thursday’s district tournament final in four games.
Now the talk is about where the first volleyball district title banner will go in Riverview’s gymnasium. The Sharks will make their first region tournament appearance since 1999, and just their second overall, when they host Springstead on Wednesday.
All of a sudden, they’re the talk of the county.
“There are a lot of big (volleyball) schools in the county and since we haven’t been one of them lately, we’ve been in the shadows,” said junior middle hitter Sarah Burrington. “It was nice to finally win district and be able to shine.”
On the court, the 6-foot-4 Burrington, a Florida State commit, draws most of the attention. Burrington might be one of the county’s most complete players (4.4 kills, 3.2 digs, 1.1 blocks a game).
But the Sharks’ key to success this season has been becoming a more complete team. They’ve embraced a defensive mind-set, averaging 18.1 digs a game, led by Miranda Becker’s 4.5 digs and Victoria Gay’s 3.7. Senior setter Rachael Jenkins averages 8.3 assists.
“Everyone just fits together like perfect little puzzle pieces,” Baker said.
Riverview tested itself in area tournaments at Bradenton Southeast and Lakeland, and its only nondistrict, nontournament loss came to defending Class 6A champion Plant in the regular-season opener.
“We’ve really looked at every match as being another step to where we want to go,” Grosso said. “I ask them, ‘Where do you want to take this?’ I don’t know if they saw this coming. They’ve taken me here. I haven’t taken them.”
Last year, Newsome came out of the same district as a runnerup in 5A-8 and went to the state tournament. Having seen that, Riverview knows it can do the same.
“We just have to play our game, whether we’re district champions or not,” Gay said. “When you get to this point, everyone else is up there, too.”
Region quarterfinals, all games at 7
Bloomingdale at Palm Harbor University
Sarasota Riverview at Plant
Palmetto at Steinbrenner
Strawberry Crest at Braden River
Santa Fe Catholic at Tampa Prep
Seffner Christian at Lakeland Victory Christian
Durant at Ocala Forest
Springstead at Riverview
Freedom at Venice
Charlotte at Sickles
Pinellas Park at East Lake
Clearwater at Northeast
CCC at Lake Placid
McKeel Academy at Berkeley
Cambridge at Naples Seacrest Country Day