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Baby keeps taking giant steps

For her summer vacation, Clearwater junior setter Sloan Baby got better.

She impressed coaches and scouts. She proved to be one of the best young setters in the country. And she helped lead her club team to a USA Junior Olympic National Championship, the first for a Florida team.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a few months.

"It's just a matter of training pretty much every day over the summer and working on every part of the game," said Baby, who has led the Tornadoes to an 8-3 start this season. "And winning, that just gives you more confidence."

Already a Times All-County and All-Suncoast performer, Baby played on a team than featured Berkeley Prep star Janet Okogbaa, among others. Together, they helped Bucs coach Randy Dagostino to his first national title, and Baby joined MVP Okogbaa and defensive specialist Christine Tan on the all-tournament team.

"I think she's the best defensive setter I ever worked with," said Dagostino, one of the state's most successful coaches, "and that says an awful lot for her to nail down a spot in the back row and still transition to deliver sets.

"She had a very good summer this year. She's been a strong player for us for several years. she was a huge part of that (championship)."

Now, Baby has her sights set on another title, in Class 4A. Baby hopes to steer a young group through a tough district and even tougher region.

The Tornadoes have lost to Gainesville P.K. Yonge, Boca Raton Spanish River and Venice, a virtual who's who of high school volleyball.

But that experience wil pay off, says the 5-foot-9 Baby. With fellow first-team All-County setter Kelsey Salava back as well as senior Sarah Sloan and sophomore Kristin Fisher, Baby thinks the Tornadoes will emerge as a state contender.

"We only lost one senior," Baby said. "We should be pretty good. We have a couple of injuries right now to one of our starts, so we're working with some new lineups. But I think we'll be fine when that works."

Clearwater, 22-7 last year, likely will have to get by Venice. Last year, the Braves knocked the Tornadoes out in the region semifinals.

"Venice will either keep us from going there, or they will be the one we have to go through," Baby said.