TAMPA — Just inside the foyer of Steinbrenner's gymnasium, where the 5-year-old walls still smell brand new, hangs a pair of lonely banners commemorating two Warriors state titles.
The tribute to a Steinbrenner girls' soccer team and 100-meter hurdler is evidence of how much the Warriors have accomplished since the school opened in 2009; the white walls surrounding it shows the lack of athletic tradition with which a new school is forced to start.
Tonight, in a region semifinal against undefeated Durant, the volleyball team seeks to further a tradition it is trying hard to establish.
On Oct. 25, the Warriors beat Wiregrass Ranch 3-1 to take their fifth straight district title, one for every year the program has existed. It's an accomplishment they covet, middle blocker Lauren Heldt said. But it's one on which the Warriors are anxious to build.
"Playing districts is okay. You've got to win that," Heldt said. "But we want to compete at the next level and get to the next level and be the better team and go farther than we ever have."
To do that, the Warriors (21-3) would need to win a region final, a match Steinbrenner lost to Venice a year ago. The Warriors must get past the only unbeaten team in Class 7A volleyball to get there.
Steinbrenner was one of just two teams to force five games against Durant (27-0) when the Warriors and Cougars met in the Hillsborough Community College high school tournament Sept. 21.
Steinbrenner led 2-1 after three sets, but in a match that Warriors coach Laura Stegenga said came down to conditioning, the Cougars won out and took the decisive fifth set 15-13.
"It was neck and neck, game for game," Stegenga said about the match. It leaves her hopeful about round two.
"Really, it's anybody's match."
Steinbrenner has dropped just two sets since that loss to the Cougars, and it goes into Tuesday's meeting with a 10-match win streak. Heldt, a junior, said she's seen her team grow in each of the three years she's been on the varsity squad.
The team that fell to Venice last year — so close to a program benchmark the Warriors could taste it — was talented, Heldt said. But this one is even better.
"I think this could be our year," she said.
Three times in school history, it's been Durant's year. State titles, after all, are what traditions are made of.
But as far as Stegenga is concerned, traditions are also formed by confronting a challenge and beating it. And that's one thing the Warriors can see in their future.
"(Against) teams like Durant, you're definitely earning what you're doing. Nothing's coming easy," Stegenga said. "When you're really earning something, that's how you start a tradition. Because you're not getting an easy pass to anywhere."
Kelly Parsons can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_kellyparsons.