Tampa Bay volleyball teams put on a show last year at the state level in Kissimmee. Robinson, Berkeley Prep, Steinbrenner and Clearwater Central Catholic made the state semifinals in their respective classes, but none of the four had the chance to compete in the championship game. This season, those teams will be vying for a repeat trip while fending off others hoping for their program’s big break. Here are the stories, players and tournaments to watch from around the area as a new crop of teams attempt to bring a championship back to Tampa Bay.
For three seasons, the Berkeley Prep volleyball dynasty reaped the benefits of one of Tampa Bay’s, and the nation’s, best players in Sidney Brown. The two-time Tampa Bay Times’ Suncoast Player of the Year totalled 1,242 kills during three years with the Bucs, and Brown, now at Stanford, was the statistical and vocal leader on a team for which making the state final four is a given. Now that the 5-foot-11 outside hitter is off playing college volleyball, the Bucs face a big question: Can they continue the dynasty without their marquee player?
Tampa Prep had some big successes last go-around, including an upset of rival Berkeley Prep and a postseason campaign that brought them one step short of the state final four. The Terrapins return standouts Corey Perkins, Alana Nelson, Ariana Mosley and Claire Blumenthal as well as 87 percent of their kills, leaving Tampa Prep with the best state championship odds in Hillsborough County. For the third straight time, Tampa Prep’s 2013 season ended with a region final loss to the Orlando First Academy, a team that has been nothing short of a thorn in the Terrapins’ side. But with more experience than ever on the roster — freshman Julia Molliack is the only new starter — the Terrapins have newfound confidence and the same desire to make it to the game’s biggest stage. “We looked at it last year as though, if we don’t win a championship, it’s really not a success,” coach Andrew Wilson said. “And that’s how we’re looking at it this year.”
The Rhoades to states
Last year, Bloomingdale outside hitter Karissa Rhoades was one of the Tampa Bay area’s best players, recording 457 kills and 65 service aces. Now that the 5-foot-11 senior is back for her senior season, the Bulls’ path to the state could be even more defined than ever. Bloomingdale fell to Palm Harbor University last season in the region semifinals, but with most of the big hitters returning — the Bulls graduated just one player who had more than 100 kills in 2013 — it could be a team to watch.
Third time a charm?
For the past two seasons, Clearwater Central Catholic advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals only to come up short. In 2012 it was a 3-2 loss to Gainesville St. Francis. Last season it was a 3-2 loss to Orlando First Academy. If there was ever a year to buck that trend, it’s this year. The Marauders appear loaded. Seniors Shea Hamilton, Katie Moore, Rachel Odell, Ashley Albers, Sara Brown and Maria Jose Amundaray all played big roles last season. Throw in a challenging schedule that includes the OVA Showcase, the Berkeley Premier and matches against First Academy and Palm Harbor University, and the Marauders will be seasoned come playoff time. “The big question for us this year is are we going to beat ourselves?” CCC coach Stephen Shepherd said. “We lost in five last year (at the state semifinals) and had 40 errors. If we get ourselves back in that position, we need to calm the nerves and play like we are capable of playing.”
Building on the best
Bishop McLaughlin finished 18-7 last season, the best campaign in program history. Now the trouble will be building upon that. Coach Douglas Chinchar admits his Hurricanes could be on a “down year,” returning just three starters. But don’t count his team out, he says. Bishop McLaughlin will return starters setter Jenny Astell, and outside hitters Casey McColl and San Diego State commit Alyssa Mathis. And though the district tournament is still months away, the Hurricanes are already putting their eggs in that basket. “It’ll be interesting. We have some kids that will have to step up a bit,” Chinchar said. “All that matters is the district tournament. We’re going to take our time, figure things out, and be ready for that district tournament.”
Players to watch
S Ashley Albers, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: She split time with Megan Kovach last year and still notched 462 assists. This season, Albers is the main setter in a highly-potent offense.
OH Avery Bradshaw, Sr., Steinbrenner: After winning their fifth straight district title, the Warriors finally earned their first final four berth last season as Bradshaw led them with 297 kills and 189 digs. Since Steinbrenner graduated just one statistical leader, Bradshaw could lead her Warriors to a repeat appearance.
OH Ali Bronson, So., Hernando: Bronson’s first varsity season was a breakout one, in which she became one of the team’s leaders, notching 118 kills and helping the Leopards to their first district title in almost a decade.
OH Shea Hamilton, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: The Pinellas County player of the year is very athletic on both the front and back lines. She had 280 kills and 312 digs.
Lib Ameije Ismaili, Sr., Palm Harbor University: One of those players who throws herself all over the court, Ismaili had 567 digs last season.
OH Madison Jenkins, Jr., Berkeley Prep: The Bucs graduated their four leading hitters, so if the volleyball dynasty continues its dominance, Jenkins, the Bucs’ top returner, will likely be a big part of it. Jenkins finished the 2013 season with 75 kills and a .401 hitting percentage.
Lib Maria Jose Amundaray, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: The Marauders are loaded with offensive weapons, but Amundaray is the glue on defense. She had 560 digs as a junior.
OH Kaylan Marckese, Jr., St. Petersburg: A very athletic hitter, she had 169 kills as a sophomore. Marckese will graduate a year early and has committed to playing soccer at the University of Florida.
OH Alyssa Mathis, Sr., Bishop McLaughlin: Mathis, a San Diego State commit, led the Hurricanes last season with 237 kills and 71 blocks. And with fellow Bishop McLaughlin standout Aileen Hnatiuk graduated, Mathis will likely be leaned on to fill an even bigger role.
S Jordyn Mattos, Sr., Fivay: Mattos recorded 779 assists last year while adding 54 kills and 128 digs for the region finalist Falcons.
MH Katie Moore, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: The 6-foot-3 Wake Forest commit had 225 kills and 105 blocks as a junior. She is one of the best dual threats at the net in the area.
MH Marissa Niedermeyer, Sr., Anclote: Niedermeyer accounted for 259 kills last season and should lead the Sharks through a competitive Class 5A, District 8 schedule.
OH Corey Perkins, Sr., Tampa Prep: Perkins, just one part of a stacked Tampa Prep team, led the region finalist Terrapins last season with 330 kills and 32 serving aces. She’ll be a key ingredient of a Tampa Prep team that has a solid shot at making states.
OH Karissa Rhoades, Sr., Bloomingdale: Rhoades, a second-team all-Suncoast selection in 2012 and first-team selection in 2013, led Hillsborough County in kills (457) while adding team-high totals in digs (288), blocks (42) and service aces (65).
OH Samantha Schlesman, Sr., Seminole: The Warhawks’ 6-foot captain will be a menace at the net this season. She had 228 kills and 65 blocks in 2013;. expect those numbers to go up this season.
OH Megan Tozour, Sr., Northside Christian: Tozour’s all-around play will make the Mustangs tough to deal with this season. She had 251 kills, 267 digs and 47 aces as a junior.
OH Victoria Trueheart, Sr., Tampa Bay HEAT: Though not a part of a traditional high school team, Trueheart had one of the best stat lines in the county, totaling 370 kills, 64 service aces and a .493 hitting percentage.
OH Courtney Vogler, Sr., Academy of the Holy Names: The 6-foot-2 Georgia commit’s size makes her a powerful hitter, and she led the Jaguars last year with 129 kills and 30 blocks.
Key local tourneys
AHN Invitational, Sept. 5-6
Keswick Invitational, Sept. 11-13
Karl Flammer Invite at Clearwater Christian, Sept. 12-13
Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Tour, Sept. 12-13
Berkeley Premier, Sept. 19-20
Wharton’s Harvest Tournament, Sept. 19-20
Fivay tournament, Sept. 26-27
Mustang Invitational, Sept. 26-27
Faith Warrior Invitational, Oct. 3-4
Bay Conference, Oct. 16