BROOKSVILLE — One season ago, Nature Coast suffered a heartbreaking loss on the road in the Class 4A region finals at Vanguard. That memory motivates the players and coaches who were on that court in Ocala and drives them with every match on the 2011 schedule.
Emily Gore led the program to records in victories (24) and its best postseason showing in school history in her first season as coach.
After making the playoffs each of the past five years, Nature Coast has gotten better every year with stars like Alex Livengood and Kayla Bailey leading the charge.
Courtney Liddle has been the captain the past two campaigns and wants nothing more than to be remembered as the player who led the Sharks to the state finals for the first time.
“We’re focused, and I think we’ve shown that,” Liddle said. “When we play at our best, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”
Gore, who was devastated for her players after the season-ending loss to Vanguard, finds more inspiration in the little things she sees in this roster.
“I’ve tried to hold off on using the word, but the more I see of them, the more it is obvious to me that this is a special team,” Gore said. “They have the potential to do some great things.”
The Sharks have gotten stronger thanks to the addition of another formidable hitter. Hernando transfer Courtney Crawford has infused a second option on the front line to make Nature Coast more unpredictable offensively.
Crawford had 152 kills for the Leopards last season and was second on the team with 62 aces. On a team where she gets more opportunities, the senior has 268 kills and 54 aces, both second to Liddle.
“Courtney helps us out so much,” Liddle said. “She gives us so many other options out there.”
Just when those numbers start popping off the statistics sheet, Liddle shocks with 339 kills and 95 aces with the district tournament still on the schedule. Nature Coast’s record of 21-2 also has given the team a chance to surpass that mark.
With their only losses to Steinbrenner (two games) and Tampa Prep (five games), the Sharks have been consistent.
With three district titles in the past four seasons, Nature Coast is a favorite to run that number to four. Liddle and Crawford are joined by Lauren Powell (43 kills, 43 aces), Michelle Doucet (86 kills) and Courtney Skinner (53 aces), all key members of last season’s team.
“We need to make sure we keep the games at own pace,” Gore said. “If we maintain momentum, we are in control, and then everything will come down to our focus.”
District volleyball schedules
Admission is $6 per session
Class 6A-10 at Tarpon Springs: Tuesday — No. 5 Land O’Lakes vs. No. 4 Sunlake, 6; Wednesday — No. 2 River Ridge vs. No. 3 Mitchell, 6; No. 1 Tarpon vs. LOL/Sunlake winner, 7:30; Thursday — final, 7
Class 6A-6: Monday — No. 5 Citrus at No. 4 Central, 7; Tuesday — If Central wins, it plays at No. 1 Springstead at 7 and No. 2 Lecanto plays at No. 3 West Port, 7. If Citrus wins, Springstead plays at West Port, 7 and Citrus at Lecanto, 7; Thursday — Final, 7
Class 5A-8 at Fivay: Monday — No. 7 Gulf vs. No. 2 Ridgewood, 5; No. 1 Hudson vs. No. 8 Pasco, 7; Tuesday — No. 3 Zephyrhills vs. No. 6 Wesley Chapel, 5; No. 4 Anclote vs. No. 5 Fivay, 7; Wednesday — Zephyrhills/Wesley Chapel winner vs. Gulf/Ridgewood winner, 5; Hudson/Pasco winner vs. Anclote/Fivay winner, 7; Thursday — final, 7
Class 5A-7 at Nature Coast: Monday — No. 3 Crystal River vs. No. 6 Dunnellon, 4:30; No. 4 Hernando vs. No. 5 Eustis, 6:30; Tuesday — No. 2 Tavares vs. Cyrstal River/Dunnellon winner, 4:30; No. 1 Nature Coast vs. Hernando/Eustis winner, 6:30; Thursday — final, 6
Class 3A-8 at Bishop McLaughlin: Monday — No. 4 Seffner Christian vs. No. 5 Brooks-DeBartolo, 6; Tuesday — No. 1 Tampa Prep vs. Seffner/Brooks winner, 6; No. 2 Carrollwood Day vs. No. 3 Bishop McLaughlin, 8; Thursday — final, 6:30
Class 2A-8 at Tampa Bay Christian: Monday — No. 4 Academy at the Lakes vs. No. 5 Citrus Park Christian, 6; No. 3 Hernando Christian vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Christian, 8; Tuesday — No. 1 Cambridge vs. ATTL/CPCS winner, 6; No. 2 Bayshore Christian vs. Hernando/TBCA winner, 8; Thursday — final, 7