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Stat crunching keys Mitchell recovery

Typically, Mitchell coach Joe Dixon approaches matches from a team perspective, taking one at a time without looking back.

Early losses to Hudson and River Ridge forced a change in philosophy.

Recognizing the Mustangs beat themselves with errors on their side, Dixon looked deeply into his team's statistics and met with players to reassess individual and team goals.

"Since then, we've had a complete turnaround maybe in areas we weren't concentrating on a little bit," Dixon said. "So, statistically we've improved and that's been evident in our play."

With its new aims in mind, Mitchell defeated Pasco and Ridgewood to improve to 4-2 overall, 3-2 in the Sunshine Athletic Conference and 2-1 in Class 5A, District 5.

Mitchell reached team goals by beating Pasco in three games and holding the Pirates to fewer than 30 points.

The Mustangs met individual aims, too.

Senior hitter Kari Wiedinger had an attack percentage of 80 to 90 percent the past few matches after hovering around 20 earlier in the season. She improved her kill percentage to about 50.

Junior Danielle Donaldson, who failed to put a serve in play in six previous attempts, served nine aces against Pasco. Senior middle hitter Shannon Stash, the team leader in attack and kill percentage, took better advantage of her sets.

Sophomores Heather Zappacosta and Ashley Stager accepted their platoon at left outside hitter, and sophomore setters Layne Spencer and Kelli Wiedinger identified assist and location goals.

Dixon said Mitchell will have to maintain its level for an Oct. 2 rematch with River Ridge.

"If we can keep this pace and keep this momentum," he said, "we'll be in good shape."

TOURNAMENT TALK: Linda McQuade doesn't know whether it's their preference for pool play or the pride they feel playing in front of their home fans.

But if there's one thing the coach has learned in 15 seasons at Hudson, it's that her teams get up to play tournaments.

"I know the girls at Hudson High," McQuade said. "They've always loved tournaments. In fact, they've played better for tournaments than season games."

They get another opportunity Friday and Saturday at the Hudson Invitational. Land O'Lakes, Gulf, Ridgewood and Zephyrhills join the Cobras in the 11-team tournament (Cocoa Beach dropped out), two more than last season.

Though there have been better fields, McQuade said the teams at this year's tourney rank among the strongest in the five- or six-year history of the event.

"We had a lot more teams want to come in from all over, so I took some east coast teams, middle of the state, south, who wanted to come in this year," McQuade said.

Hudson appears ready for them.

Led by middle hitter Allyson Ray (60 kills, 30 blocks), setter Jenna Strawser (140 assists) and freshman Lara Metz (25 kills), the Cobras opened 5-0 (4-0 in Class 4A, District 10), including a 25-15, 25-22, 30-28 win over Mitchell.

JUST DESSERTS: First-year Land O'Lakes coach Staci Elias said her team's 3-2 record and 0-2 mark in Class 5A, District 5 indicate a team in transition after losing 10 seniors to graduation and starting two freshmen, three juniors and two seniors in their first varsity season.

"I think our record accurately displays where we're at right now," Elias said.

Until it gains experience, Land O'Lakes will continue to lean on junior outside hitter Hannah Newhall and junior setter Michelle O'Keefe. Newhall is an excellent passer and the team's strongest hitter. O'Keefe makes sound decisions with the ball.

Though senior middle hitter Kaela Kilfoyl remains out for another week or two with back spasms resulting from an automobile accident, freshman middle hitters Kayli Keough and Danielle Priest have stepped up their play.

At the Hudson tourney, Elias hopes to find the consistency that has eluded her team.

"My girls seem to like to play up," Elias said. "They made the comment they like to play better teams than teams of equal or lesser talent, because we tend to make the matches go too long instead of putting a team away."

TAMPA-BOUND: A young Pasco squad with eight new players hopes to gain experience at the Lady Hawks Tournament on Friday and Saturday at Hillsborough Community College.

Pasco (1-5 overall, 1-1 in Class 3A, District 6) struggled with its consistency in losses to Zephyrhills, Land O'Lakes, Hudson and Hernando but gained confidence from a loss to Mitchell on Sept. 16.

"The first game, we had them down 17-6," coach Ramiro Tejada said. "We ended up losing, but our girls played a lot better that night than they had."

Junior outside hitter Ashley Naughton averaged 12 kills over the past three matches. Jennifer Peters, a transfer from Wesley Chapel, has been a pleasant surprise at setter. Seniors Jami Pass, Casey Roy and Sarabeth Barthle also have played well, Tejada said.

_ FRANK PASTOR, Times staff writer

The Times will publish volleyball statistics and standings on Thursdays beginning next week. Coaches are asked to fax their cumulative statistics, along with their conference, district and overall records to (727) 869-6233 or e-mail pastorsptimes.com each week by noon Tuesday.

SCHEDULE

HUDSON INVITATIONAL

POOLS: A: Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Pinellas Park, Sickles; B: DeLand, Gulf, Lakewood; C: Melbourne, Lely, Ridgewood, Zephyrhills.

HILLSBOROUGH CC TOURNAMENT

POOLS: A: Northeast, Auburndale, Riverview; B: Wesley Chapel, Bloomingdale, Hillsborough; C: Pasco, Tarpon Springs, King.

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