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Superstitious Spongers take fate in own hands

During the past two seasons, Tarpon Springs High School's volleyball team has a 51-4 record, a second-place state Class 3A finish and a District 11 title. Quite simply, the Spongers have won. But the Spongers don't tempt fate. Several players are superstitious and follow the same routines:

For road matches, the Spongers sit in assigned seats on the bus and nowhere else.

In two seasons, many of them haven't changed their hairstyles.

They eat at the same restaurant, Nick's Pizza and Seafood, in Tarpon Springs.

Prior to each game, Monica Wilson and Nikki Vaporis are sure to have a telephone conversation.

"We've made sure to do things the same way," Wilson said.

And don't try to change anything in their presence. This season, a team manager had the audacity to move the water cooler and volleyballs from the front seat of the team bus. "We had to tell him to put them back," Vaporis said. "Were not going to change doing anything until we win state."

Some players weren't superstitious at first. But it doesn't take long to convert them.

Rosie Barker, a junior setter, has worn the same knee pad on her left knee and has vowed not to remove it until the season ends.

"That thing smells and you can smell it," Vaporis said, "but she can't take it off."

But superstition isn't the only thing that motivates the Spongers. Many of the players said that a broken middle finger Barker sustained on her left in August was the turning point in their season.

"That made us come together," Wilson said. "We all knew that we had to step up and play harder while she was gone. Each one of us can do so many things well."

Winning a state title is the Spongers' ultimate goal.

Last year, Tarpon Springs was defeated in the state final by Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons. Despite the second-place finish, the Spongers say they haven't received any recognition.

"We prefer to stay undercover," said coach Carol Kidman. "Our philosophy is that talk is cheap."

There won't be much talking on Tuesday when Tarpon Springs plays Clearwater (23-2, 12-0 in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference) for the PCAC championship. The Spongers are 11-0 in conference play. Although they've played in the same tournaments (Clearwater Invitational), this is the only time the two teams will meet.

The Spongers enter the match with an 18-game winning streak.

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