With every tax-supported institution in Florida under the gun to cut expenses, Bobby Bowman went to his boss with a painful plan.
Bowman is the architect of athletics at Pasco-Hernando Community College. He was there when they chose a mascot and colors. In his 20th and final year before retiring, he is fiercely proud of his teams' statewide respectability. But as the fall semester approached, he found himself with the unpleasant task of recommending cuts in scholarships that would make it harder to recruit.
No longer would the college pay for its basketball, baseball and volleyball players' apartments and meals, a distinction that would move them from Division I to Division II in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
Kim Whitney, who in seven years as head volleyball coach had compiled a 167-67 record, met with each player. She didn't want them to leave PHCC. "I told them we had something special going here," Whitney recalled, "that we had a chance to be really good."
The team stayed together.
"We had to get jobs," said Ashley Seal, a returning sophomore from the Orlando area who was in line to be team captain. "But we all wanted to stay here and finish. We had become friends as well as teammates, and Coach Whitney is amazing."
The result: A national championship.
In a chilly dome in Wisconsin, the Conquistadors slashed their way through teams ranked above them in the national polls before capturing the title on Nov. 20 with a five set victory over Johnson Community College of Overland Park, Kansas.
Dr. Kathy Johnson, PHCC's president, couldn't make the trip, but she got a virtual play-by-play via text messages. With every point, team trainer Mary Manning sent a text to Bob Bade, assistant dean for student services, who was home in New Port Richey. Bade, in turn, sent messages to Johnson in Gainesville.
"Every time they scored, I'd text," Bade said. "I wore out my thumbs."
"I can't tell you how excited we were that night," said Johnson. "We were hollering and cheering."
The championship didn't get much notice in the media, occupied by the usual Thanksgiving week football games. And since students were off for the holiday, it took a while for word to get around. But on campus last week, students and instructors were beaming and planning a celebration for Thursday.
"I wish you could have seen the joy that I saw in those girls' eyes" when they got off the plane, said Bowman. "They were so proud."
Coach Whitney, who also teaches business classes, agreed. But she still had the players running wind sprints in the gym. "She keeps pushing," said Seal, the setter who was named MVP of the national tournament. "She keeps us — and herself — in top condition."
Whitney, 33, played high school volleyball at Clearwater Central Catholic when her name was Kim Zschau. (She is married to Frank Whitney, a Clearwater firefighter.) She earned a full scholarship at Kansas State University, where she still holds several records. She played for the U.S. Women's National Team in 2001 and has played professionally, both indoor and beach volleyball.
"Winning a national title has always been a dream of mine," she said. "It's especially gratifying because I know how hard my players worked."
Three of them — Seal, Tazra Pitts of Houston and Desiree Ates of Saskatchewan — were honored late last week as All Americans. They expect to continue playing at four-year colleges.
Meanwhile, Whitney figures the national championship will help her recruit more outstanding athletes to PHCC, despite the reduction of scholarship money.
"We've established something here," she said. "We'll keep it going."