When it comes to coaching volleyball at Tarpon Springs, Patrick Sneed has to be a salesman. He doesn’t have the benefit of club players funneling into his school. So every summer, Sneed volunteers to help with freshman orientation.
He scans the crop of new students, looking for anyone who might stand out — literally.
“I have my eyes open,’’ said Sneed, in his eighth season as Spongers coach. “I see a 6-foot girl, I go right up to them and ask if they want to play volleyball. I hand out fliers and see who’s interested. A lot of these girls are on this team because of that.’’
A prime example is Ashlyn MacGregor.
As a freshman, MacGregor was already 6 feet 1. Her sister, Micah, was on the volleyball team, but Ashlyn never had much interest. She was a soccer player. And besides, she got cut from the Tarpon Springs Middle School volleyball team as a sixth grader.
“I was like, okay, forget it, I’m not doing this,’’ MacGregor said. “At the time I was playing soccer so I was fine with that.’’
Sneed was not fine with it. He was not going to let a 6-foot-1 freshman walk the halls and not be on his volleyball team.
“I remember seeing her sitting in a chair (at orientation) and she’s coming up past my waist,’’ Sneed said. “I said, ‘You are coming out for volleyball next year, right?’ ”
His pitch worked. MacGregor showed up for tryouts and made varsity.
“We had to teach her everything,’’ Sneed said. “My assistant, Donna Collins, wanted to put her on JV, but she was so athletic that we just threw her in the mix.’’
Both Sneed and MacGregor said it was rough during her freshman year. Sneed said there were times when MacGregor would try to spike with two hands.
“I wasn’t anywhere near what I am now,’’ MacGregor said. “I wasn’t very good.’’
Her awkward freshman year did not dissuade her. MacGregor decided to drop soccer and focus on volleyball. She joined a club team the summer between her freshman and sophomore year.
It was a lot of work. In fact, it was so much work that MacGregor thought about giving it up. But Sneed made another pitch.
“I told her, ‘God gave you a gift,’ ” Sneed said. “ 'You need to let that light shine.' I think she realized that during her sophomore year.’’
MacGregor’s improvement coincided with the Spongers' improvement. Tarpon Springs, with just two club players (Kelsi Collins and MacGregor) slowly got better. Last season, the Spongers advanced to the state semifinal and MacGregor led the way with 423 kills.
This season, Tarpon Springs is off to an 8-1 start and won this past weekend’s Keswick Invitational. MacGregor has 130 kills, 5.2 per game.
She has gone from being a raw player to one who never leaves the court. She is also playing in the back row for the first time.
“I’m still working on it,’’ MacGregor said. “It’s taking some getting used to. But it’s nice to change it up.’’
One look at how MacGregor plays and it’s easy to see why Sneed wants her on the court as much as possible. She knows she is being counted on to end every point with a kill or block.
It’s a far cry from her freshman year, but she remains humble.
“I get all the credit, but it can’t happen without everybody else,’’ MacGregor said. “It can’t happen without the pass, without the sets, without getting serves over. Everybody plays into it.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org