Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Knights volleyball redefines itself with new coach, new attitude

TAMPA — There isn't much of a volleyball history at Robinson.

The Knights haven't won a district title in 32 years. Last year, they won just two games, one by forfeit. In fact, this year, they entered August without a head coach.

That's what makes this fall's rebirth so remarkable. The Knights head into tonight's district home match against Steinbrenner with an opportunity to take first place in Class 4A-9.

"This year is a complete turnaround," said first-year coach Ryan Wheatley, an active-duty Air Force medic at MacDill who was an assistant coach last season before taking the head coaching job. "Listening to the stories coming in, I just thought, 'Okay, let's see how it goes.' The whole mentality has changed around a lot."

The Knights (6-4) have won six of their past seven, including a three-set win over Strawberry Crest last week that set the stage for tonight's matchup between the only teams unbeaten in district play.

"We been training the entire year for that," said sophomore right-side hitter Sophia Tahiri. "Once we started winning games we began to think, 'Yeah, we can do this.' We actually had faith in ourselves."

A youth movement has changed the mentality at Robinson. Sophomore libero Leslie Gibson leads Hillsborough County with digs (5.1 a game). The Knights' starting setter, Melissa Weathers, is a freshman, and freshman middle hitter Lexi Gaertner, the team's leading blocker, has emerged as a front-row presence.

"Once we got girls in the right positions, it all kind of just came together," said captain Nicole Mello, the team's only starting senior. "Even out of school you feel different. Before people used to say, 'Oh, you go to Robinson, you guys aren't good.' Now you have that sense of accomplishment that you are good."

There's a special eye on that lonely district title banner from 1978 hanging in the gymnasium.

"They look at that banner every day where it says the last district win was 1978," Wheatley said. "They look up at that and they all say we want to have our year up there and that determination shows every day."

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at

Knights volleyball redefines itself with new coach, new attitude 10/07/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 9:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  2. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  3. Rays journal: Cesar Puello, who has one major-league game, claimed off waivers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Looking to add punch to their right-handed lineup, the Rays claimed OF Cesar Puello off waivers Saturday from the Angels.

  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Mariners game

    The Heater

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't always look like he's going hard, but he showed impressive reactions Saturday in reversing field to catch a ball that clanked off the catwalk then firing to second to double up Guillermo Heredia on an attempt to tag up.

  5. Bucs journal: Simeon Rice gives master class on sacks to defensive ends


    TAMPA — As the Bucs seek their first 10-sack season from a player since Simeon Rice in 2005, who better to help that cause than Rice himself?

    Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Simeon Rice works with defensive end Noah Spence (57) after practice at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.