The senior volleyball seasons of Sunlake High's Sarah Sprague, Carrollwood Day's Aisling Sheehan and Clearwater Central Catholic's Katie Moore couldn't have gone much better.
Sprague and Sheehan led their teams to state tournament appearances for the first time. Sunlake lost in the Class 5A state semifinal. Carrollwood Day advanced to the Class 3A state final.
Moore's Marauders did even better. They managed to defeat Carrollwood Day in the final to win their first state championship since 1985.
"It was the best feeling in the world," Moore said.
While Sprague and Sheehan didn't end their seasons with wins, they do get the satisfaction of leading their teams to their best seasons ever. Because of their accomplishments, Sprague, Sheehan and Moore are the Tampa Bay Times' all-area volleyball Players of the Year.
For Sheehan's Patriots and Sprague's Seahawks, the 2014 season featured not only the programs' first final four appearances, but their first district championships and playoff victories.
That fact, Sprague said, only made the Seahawks' state semifinal run all the more impressive.
"To me it was an unreal experience because we were always the underdog team," she said.
From the moment a freshman Moore put on her CCC uniform, along with teammates Shea Hamilton, Maria Jose Amundaray, Sara Brown and Rachel Odell, she thought about hanging another state championship banner in the gym. Her first trip came as a sophomore, capped by a semifinal loss. Her junior year ended the same way.
This was her final chance. Before she headed off to Wake Forest, Moore wanted a state title on her resume. The Marauders defeated Carrollwood Day in three games, and Moore had 14 kills in both the semifinal and final.
"From the very first time we stepped onto the court our goal was to win states," Moore said. "The fact that we ended it by achieving our goal was such a big deal to all of us."
The bus ride home from Kissimmee was full of emotion. For the seniors like Moore, the job was done. But so were the days of playing together.
"It was really kind of bittersweet," she said. "On one hand, we got to celebrate a state championship. On the other hand, it was the last time we were going to play together. There were some tears."
The Patriots' record-breaking season may have ended at the hands of the Marauders, but Sheehan said she and her teammates didn't get down on themselves after the loss. After all, they had put together a season of firsts. One more would have been great, but it didn't discredit the accomplishments they had already achieved.
"It was fun to be there with my team," Sheehan said. "Even though we didn't win, I just loved being there."
Pinellas Player of the Year: Katie Moore, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
Best match: When the Marauders needed her most, Moore came through. In the state final she had 14 kills and six blocks to lead Clearwater Central Catholic in its three-game sweep of Carrollwood Day.
Final stats: She finished her senior season with 322 kills and 110 blocks. She ended her four-year career with 963 kills and 442 blocks. The Marauders were 103-27 during her time on varsity.
Most memorable moment: Moore singled out the Class 3A state final against Carrollwood Day. The Marauders won 25-21, 25-10, 25-19 to claim the school's second state championship. It was also CCC's third straight appearance in the state final. "It was that final game at states," Moore said. "There is no feeling like going to states, let alone winning. There's no game that can compare. In 10 years, 20 years, the only game I'm going to remember is that final game at states."
What's next: Moore will play volleyball at Wake Forest University on a full scholarship.
Future goal: Moore plans to earn a business degree. She would also like to coach volleyball in the future. "Volleyball taught me how to be a good teammate, a better student, a better person. I'd like to pass some of what I learned on to others."
On her career at Clearwater Central Catholic: "It's gone by so fast. I can't believe it's been four years."
Hillsborough Player of the Year: Aisling Sheehan, Sr., Carrollwood Day
Best match: Two weeks after CDS beat Tampa Prep for its first district championship, Sheehan had a season-high 27 kills in the region semifinal as the Patriots again beat the Terrapins, 3-2.
Final stats: The Patriots were the Cinderella team of the season, and Sheehan was a big reason why. Prior to this season, CDS had never even made the playoffs, but the senior outside hitter recorded a team-record 453 kills and 32 blocks, including 25 kills in a state semifinal win against Providence.
Most memorable moment: Even though the Patriots made the state championship game, Sheehan said the most memorable moment of the season came weeks before with a 3-2 district championship victory against Tampa Prep.
Interesting fact: Both of Sheehan's parents are from Ireland, so she has traveled to the country at least once a year since she was a child. "It's good to get a different perspective. I like going there and having a different life, two different cultures."
Future goal: Sheehan said she'd like to go to a state school in Florida and continue playing volleyball at the club or intramural level so she can focus on her academics. Sheehan plans to study pre-med in college.
On the Patriots' state championship game appearance: "At first it was really nerve-wracking, but after playing in the semifinal the first day, the nerves went away and just playing there was a really good experience for all of us."
North Suncoast Player of the Year: Sarah Sprague, Sr., Sunlake
Best match: A week after helping Sunlake secure its first playoff victory, Sprague led the Seahawks to their second, recording 24 kills, two aces and four blocks in a 3-1 region quarterfinal win over Hernando.
Final stats: The senior outside hitter helped take Sunlake from a program in the shadows to the state final four. Sprague finished the season with 413 kills, 60 aces and 164 digs, leading the Seahawks to their first district championship, their first playoff win and their first state semifinal appearance.
Most memorable moment: On Sept. 20, the Seahawks competed in the Harvest Tournament, winning three of four matches. But it was what happened at the end of the day that was the most memorable moment of the season for Sprague. Sept. 20 also happened to be Sprague's 18th birthday, and when she got home from the tournament, her teammates were there for a surprise party. "I thought everyone was going to go chill," she said. "I got there and they all yelled, 'Surprise!' "
Interesting fact: Though she has excelled at volleyball, the sport wasn't Sprague's first love. She was previously involved in swimming, track, basketball and even played soccer at Sunlake before ultimately deciding to focus on volleyball because of her older sister's affinity for the sport. "She's like my idol," Sprague said.
Future goal: Sprague hopes to play volleyball at the next level, but at the moment she said she's still weighing her options. She plans to wait until February, once all her college acceptance letters have arrived, to make her choice.
On Sunlake's Cinderella season: "In the beginning of the season we looked kind of shaky, but as the season went on I knew we had it."
S Ashley Albers, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: Albers had the luxury of feeding some of the top hitters in the area; recorded 856 assists and 182 digs.
OH Kathryn Attar, So., Wharton: Attar commanded the court and led all of Tampa Bay with 441 kills. The 5-foot-11 hitter also recorded 55 aces.
OH Avery Bradshaw, Sr., Steinbrenner: The Saint Leo signee helped bring the Warriors to their second straight final four appearance with 302 kills, 37 aces and 249 digs.
OH Shea Hamilton, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic: Hamilton was again a powerful hitter for the state champion Marauders, with 344 kills and 323 digs.
Lib Ameije Ismaili, Sr., Palm Harbor University: Ismaili's job was to keep points alive, and she did it better than most. She had 614 digs and 25 aces.
OH Karissa Rhoades, Sr., Bloomingdale: The Florida Gulf Coast signee led Bloomingdale through a one-loss regular season, recording 308 kills and 79 aces.
OH Victoria Trueheart, Sr., Tampa Bay HEAT: Trueheart led the HEAT to its first final four appearance with 415 kills, 67 aces and 29 blocks.
S Abby Walker, Sr., Palm Harbor University: Walker kept the 'Canes offense rolling all season with 886 assists and 247 digs.
OH Jazmine Barker, Sr. Palm Harbor University
OH Sara Brown, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
S Casey Brynjolfsson, Jr., Carrollwood Day
Lib Chrissy Brynjolfsson, Jr., Carrollwood Day
OH/MB Alyssa Mathis, Sr., Bishop McLaughlin
OH Rachel Odell, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
OH Kelsey Riquelme, Jr., Sunlake
OH Catia Sleet, Jr., Robinson
MB Shelby Akos, Jr., Riverview
Lib Maria Jose Amundaray, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
OH Ali Bronson, So., Hernando
OH Kaylan Marckese, Sr., St. Petersburg
S Jordyn Mattos, Sr., Fivay
OH Camille Opp, So., Academy of the Holy Names
OH Corey Perkins, Sr., Tampa Prep
OH Samantha Schlesman, Sr., Seminole
Academy at the Lakes: Alexis Forester, Gigi Chairmonte, Bailey Rodriguez; Academy of the Holy Names: Courtney Vogler, Becca Prossen; Anclote: Marissa Niedermeyer, Angela Pickering; Armwood: Dijia Johnson; Berkeley Prep: Madison Jenkins; Bishop McLaughlin: Casey McColl, Jenny Astell; Bloomingdale: Chelsea Chavers, Kaitlyn Grice; Boca Ciega: Taylor Garbiso; Brandon: Shannon Dudley; Calvary Christian: Gabby Fresh, Shelby Mahaz; Cambridge Christian: Katherine Dykes, Grace Nelson, Lauren Steinle; Carrollwood Day: Stevie Schweitzer; Central: Taylor Asher, Christina Lewis, Desiree McGee; Clearwater: Ciara Lusnia; Clearwater Central Catholic: Cameron Fitzpatrick; Dunedin: Katie Will; Durant: Rachael Rice, Lindsey Robinson; East Bay: Lauren Howell, Fabrizia Wade; East Lake: Rachel Cornatzer, Avarie Lewis; Fivay: Amber Lake, Alli Hudson; Freedom: Danielle Thomas, Savanna Young; Gulf: Amanda Smith; Hernando: Kaitlyn Jones; Hillsborough: Alex Lutton; Hudson: Cassidy Rux; Indian Rocks Christian: Hayley Morten; Keswick Christian: Madison Span; King: Arielle Allen, Mercedyz Mitchell, Michayla Williams; Mitchell: Payton Murchie, Bailey Sassatelli, Kayla Widera; Newsome: Kiley Gagain, Rachel Llewellyn, Victoria Omoregie; Northeast: Brittany Taksas; Northside Christian: Hannah Artille, Megan Tozour; Osceola: Katie Newman; Palm Harbor University: Jetta Brady, Julia Angelo, Allison Guilfole; Pasco: Kameron Johnson, Kathryn Sarber; Plant: Angel Gaskin; Plant City: Kasi Maguire, Lindsey Moore, Kellie Pernula; Ridgewood: Aubree Sigismondi; River Ridge: Jessica Babcock, Kenzi Maguire, Paige Theede; Riverview: Meagan Letcher, Casey Monroe, Kelsey Rodgers; Robinson: McKenna Tyson; St. Petersburg: Holly Welch, Kelly Frehling; Seminole: Ashley Hughes; Seffner Christian: Ally Parimore; Springstead: Cailla Strobel; Steinbrenner: Brooke Royals, Lauren Heldt; Strawberry Crest: Terra Brooks, Jailene Caraballo; Sunlake: Nelly Diaz, Shaira Sanabria; Tampa Catholic: Abby Zimroth; Tampa Bay HEAT: Abigail Hodges, Catherine Trueheart, Ariah LaRoe; Tampa Prep: Claire Blumenthal, Natalie Galdos, Ariana Mosley; Tarpon Springs: Erin Jarvis; Allie Cullens; Weeki Wachee: Alyssa Cupeles, Miranda Werkmeister; Wharton: Chanelle Hargreaves, Lindsey Schaible, Tyler Sroufe; Wiregrass Ranch: Connor Bennett, Madison Besterfield, Anna Olsen, Courtney Rottum
Coach of the year
Stephen Shepherd, Clearwater Central Catholic. Shepherd led the Marauders to the Class 3A state tournament for a third straight season. This season CCC was finally able to win the school's third volleyball state championship and first since 1985. The Marauders were loaded with seniors, many of whom have started since their sophomore seasons. This was the year they were expected to win it all, and Shepherd did not let them lose focus during the season.