HUDSON — Look what a taste of success has done.
The Fivay volleyball team has to replace the most successful coach in Pasco County history (Linda McQuade) and the Tampa Bay Times' North Suncoast player of the Year (Toni Imbimbo). But the Falcons are confident they can build on last year's first playoff appearance.
And it shows in their demeanor.
"We're taking things more seriously. We're a lot quieter, more focused," senior Briannah Nemetz said.
"No one's joking around," setter Jordyn Mattos added.
Clearly last year's trip to the Class 5A region final gave this group a glimpse of something it desperately wants to revisit. And in new coach Nikki Pollock, it has someone who has been there before.
Pollock was a big part of the historic state final run Hudson made in 2000 — under McQuade. She also was McQuade's assistant the past two years.
"How well they did last year has everything to do with their attitude now," Pollock said after Monday's businesslike practice. "A lot of their matches they had to really fight, a lot went five sets. Showed them they can do it, and that the effort and the focus pays off."
That carryover feeling, plus a summer filled with conditioning in brutal heat and some more enjoyable team bonding activities, is all great.
But it doesn't fill the space left by Imbimbo and her all-around talents.
Imbimbo was second to Nemetz in kills but was a tremendous passer and defender (5.2 digs per set). Attempting to replace her on the left side is a sophomore, Amber Lake.
"She's going to try to step into that role. It's a big step," Pollock said.
Lake has already filled a tremendous role. Her house happens to be fitted with a beach volleyball court, home to many a team outing this summer.
And while that provided a tremendous fringe benefit of keeping the girls in shape, Pollock is not about to let them rest. Monday's 21/2 hours on the court were followed by: 100 skips in jump rope, 30 bicycle crunches, 10 leg-up sit-ups, 20 wall jumps, at least a minute of wall squats, more inverse sit-ups and … 30 jumping jacks.
But notably, no eye rolls.
"She's calmer than coach McQuade, but she's still intense," said Nemetz's twin sister, Ashleigh.
The Nemetz girls would know. Pollock was their JV coach as freshmen. Fortunately their faces have begun to differentiate somewhat, compared to back then when they had to write their names on their cheeks to help out Pollock.
While the twins will lead more by their play, the other key senior — libero Courtney Costa — is the more vocal, rally-the-troops type. Mattos is a rock-solid junior coming off a year where she averaged 8.8 assists per set, and Alli Hudson had 100 kills as a sophomore and brings serious energy.
Returning to the playoffs is expected but no sure thing. Tarpon Springs and Dunedin, both champions of their respective districts, are new to Fivay's grouping, and Anclote has emerged as a fierce rival. Two of the Falcons' first four matches are visits to Tarpon (Aug. 29) and Anclote (Sept. 5).
District 5A-8 is a full house that includes Gulf, Land O'Lakes, River Ridge and Sunlake.
Pollock has crafted a more challenging schedule with a trip to Orlando for a tournament.
And then there's McQuade. She still serves as a volunteer assistant and will no doubt be there to lend advice to Pollock.
"It's not going to be strange at all," Pollock said. "We've helped each other so much, and we stay together."