TAMPA — As Jessica Lamm's first season as Tampa Prep volleyball coach began, she was concerned less about expectations and more on fundamentals.
During every Terrapins practice, a white dry-erase board leans against a wall where each player is graded weekly. Each player strives to be No. 1. You don't want to be No. 12, because then you'll have to wear a pair of gaudy glittery blue or purple spandex to the next practice and bear the laughs of teammates.
"This is literally how basic we started off with them," said Lamm, who said the exercise forced her young team to be competitive through the season.
Tampa Prep (15-11) is now two wins from its fourth straight state tournament berth. Today The Terrapins face district rival Bishop McLaughlin, a team they've beaten twice this season. A rematch with First Academy, which ended Tampa Prep's season the past two years in the state tournament, could be next.
But Lamm admits the focus this season wasn't on another trip to state, but on making her team battle tested for the future. The Terrapins returned just three starters: Senior setter Lauren Shlemon, senior libero Nikki Cardoso and junior outside hitter Katie Krueger.
The rotation included four freshmen and two sophomores.
"We've gone slower, but it hasn't been a bad thing for any of us," Cardoso said. "We can all go back and perfect our techniques. It's been slow and nice for them, but it's been great for the whole team."
On the eve of the Terrapins' region semifinal match, Lamm spent most of practice running a simulated match between her first and second teams, something she wasn't able to do even a couple weeks ago, she said.
But the patience has paid off. Early in the season, the entire offense rotated around Krueger, a 6-foot-3 Virginia Tech recruit.
Since then, freshman outside Ariana Mosley has played both front and back rows. Another freshman, Kamryn Beach, has adjusted to playing the middle for the first time. Freshman right side Corey Perkins is honing her powerful swing.
Along the way, wins over Plant and Academy of the Holy Names in the Tampa Bay Invitational helped the baby turtles gain confidence.
But for Shlemon and Cardoso, this is their last chance for a state title. And while they know they have to beat Bishop McLaughlin first, they want one more shot at First Academy.
"There's definitely a revenge factor," Shlemon said. "We've played Bishop before and we know what we need to do to beat them. We know we have to win that match, but our focus is definitely on beating First Academy."
"We've been thinking about First Academy since Day 1," Cardoso said. "Berkeley (Prep) is our rival, but they're not in the way of that banner. First Academy is."