LARGO — Sometimes the multitude of new faces on Indian Rocks Christian's side of the net has Kenzie Reynolds doing a double take.
"I get flashbacks, it's weird," said Reynolds, the lone returning starter from an Indian Rocks team that graduated eight seniors. "When we're on the court, I see Madison (Loebel), the tall blond. She has the same blond hair that Brianne (Yates) did. I see her going up for a hit and I have to catch myself. I think, 'Oh wait, that's Madi, not Brianne.' It's cool though."
Since making varsity as an eighth-grader, Reynolds has always been the youngest starter for the Golden Eagles.
She was the little sister — at least that's how she viewed herself — to her upperclassman teammates. Now the senior is the oldest on the court and it has the outside hitter feeling a bit, well, unfamiliar.
"I was always the one looking up to other people, and now it's the other way around," she said. "So, I'm getting used to that. It's a big difference."
The past few seasons have been filled with a number of firsts for the IRC volleyball program: first winning season in 2005; first district championship and playoff appearance in '06; first back-to-back district titles and playoff trips the following season.
With the bulk of the players from those record-setting teams gone this season, the Golden Eagles are hoping for another first: first successful reloading attempt. The early returns have been promising.
"After we graduated everybody, I'm thinking I don't know what I have coming back," coach Mark Foster said about his squad, now 8-2. "But everybody that played club last year got leaps and bounds better over the summer. We put them on the court at team camp, and I was getting chills all over the place because it's like, wow, this is a really, really strong team."
When Foster took over the Indian Rocks program six years ago, one player had club experience. Now, that number stretches into the 20s between the Golden Eagles varsity, junior varsity and middle school squads. For that reason alone, Foster doesn't see a return anytime soon to the days when finishing above .500 was an accomplishment.
Neither does Reynolds, one of just two seniors.
"We have a lot of tall, young girls, and they're going to keep on growing," Reynolds said. "The next few years I know we're going to be great. I'm jealous I won't be here for it."
As it stands, Indian Rocks is one of a handful of county teams with a legitimate shot at making it to Lakeland and the state final four.
The Golden Eagles are tall; Sarah Bash, a senior transfer from Mitchell, and freshmen Kindall Edwards and Loebel each stand at or near 6 feet. Reynolds, who has a chance to reach 1,000 kills and digs for her career, provides leadership. Sophomore outside hitter Marisa Moralobo is a terrifically athletic and powerful ball striker. And Foster says this is the best serving team he has ever coached.
"I think we truly could get to at least where we got the last two years," Foster said, referring to the team's region semifinal appearances.
Before each game, the Golden Eagles don shirts that read "New Team, Same Dream."
Nowadays at Indian Rocks, the players may change, but the lofty expectations remain.