Sunday, December 10, 2017

Plenty of unfinished business for Mitchell volleyball

TRINITY — Their previous trip to New Smyrna Beach turned out to be a joyride, resulting in the Mitchell Mustangs' first spot in the state volleyball semifinals.

So when Mitchell took the same journey last November, a similar outcome was expected.

The memories still haunt.

"We were thinking it's going to be an easy win. Let's go, let's beat them and get on to the next team," recalled Mariella "Pupa" Haimes, one of the Mustangs' standouts.


"It wasn't like that."

Fortunately for the Mustangs, stunned in straight sets at last year's region final, almost the entire band is together for one last shot at a state title.

Although band is not their favorite word, at least not now.

The three-hour bus ride home from New Smyrna was made in silence, but for the noise ringing in the Mustangs' ears.

"There was a lot of chaos, because the band came," said Jessie Mooney, a former Tampa Bay Times' North Suncoast Player of the Year. "They had a band in the gym and they would play during the timeouts."

Normally Mitchell head coach Heidi Michaels' instructions don't fall on deaf ears, but this was different.

"We were already flustered, because we wanted to win so badly," said Mooney. "We called a couple of timeouts, but when we (did), the band was playing — we couldn't hear our coach trying to tell us how to get out of it. And it just got worse."

Apart from preparing their musically proficient classmates for a possible repeat meeting — and hopefully, if so, at home — with the Barracudas, what else is there for the Mustangs to improve upon?

"Chemistry" is the brief answer from Michaels, who wants to make sure that the lone key departure works seamlessly into the lineup. Setter Brie Tsamis graduated, and Kamdyn Mohr will slide into that role.

The urgency for all the parts to work together is heightened, with front-liners Mooney, Haimes, Morgin Tew, Emily Mohrmann, Mallory Coleman and Selena Kriston all seniors.

Newcomer Megan McCain will challenge Mohr, with Kennedy DeLuca the only returning regular who is not a senior. The 6-foot middle is a junior.

"It's always been easier with chemistry for us because we've played together since the seventh grade," said Haimes.

The chemistry with Haimes and Mooney revealed itself during their interview Monday, at least three times one seamlessly finishing a sentence the other started.

They'll definitely be taking separate paths after this season. Mooney is committed to Valdosta State University (Ga.), where former Mustang Kayla Widera is entering her junior year.

Haimes could easily latch on as a Division I-A libero, which aligns with her 5-foot-6 frame. But she's chosen to go the beach volleyball route.

"It was tough," she said of the realization that her height would inhibit her indoor college pursuits. "I decided not that I'm settling, but I don't want to be a libero in college and I'm really not tall enough to go D-I. And I do enjoy beach a lot."

But right now her eyes, same with Mooney's, are trained on getting back to the state tournament. Mitchell, after defeating New Smyrna in 2015, won a thriller at Ocala Forest before losing in the state title match.

Mooney says the team, without overlooking anyone on the schedule, is trying to prepare itself to play at a region level.

It's not a stretch considering the Mustangs have won five straight district titles.

And, should they end up advancing to another possible region final, especially against New Smyrna? Mitchell plans on making the most noise this time.

"We might learn to play instruments. It's definitely going to be incorporated somehow," Haimes said.


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