Stephanie Seaman and Jackie Lindelle chose not to be there. Brittany Castelamare didn't have a choice.
Now, they're back in River Ridge's lineup, and there's no place they'd rather be.
After a year away from the team, the trio has helped the Royal Knights to a 9-0 record entering Wednesday's match against Land O'Lakes, including 6-0 in the Sunshine Athletic Conference and 3-0 in Class 5A, District 5.
Seaman, a middle hitter who played varsity two years ago as a sophomore, sat out last season to focus on club softball. Physically and mentally strong, she has been one of River Ridge's top hitters.
Lindelle has helped buoy the Royal Knights' defense and spirits after opting not to play last season. A "bundle of energy," according to coach Heidi Castelamare, Lindelle does anything she is asked while keeping her teammates upbeat.
Brittany, Castelamare's daughter, had the longest road back after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in a knee. An all-conference selection two years ago as a freshman, she quarterbacks River Ridge's "quick" offense as the team's setter.
Others have contributed, too. Senior outside hitter Tricia Thomas leads the squad in kills. Sophomore backrow player Joy Barquin has been a pleasant surprise, Heidi Castelamare said, and Kelly Bruce has been hitting the ball well.
"We're playing pretty well all around but we haven't had a great game as a whole team yet," Castelamare said. "We've had individuals come up and have done a great job."
COBRAS IN CONTROL: With a 12-0 record, including 7-0 in Class 4A, District 10 and 7-0 in the SAC, Hudson is the front-runner for the district crown. The conference could come down to the Cobras' home match against River Ridge on Oct. 13.
Hudson coach Linda McQuade said she will emphasize endurance and communication on the floor as her team prepares for its stretch run.
The Cobras reached other goals while winning their invitational Friday and Saturday. Hudson improved its quickness and coverage while winning every game of every match, including a 25-11, 25-14, 27-25 victory over Ridgewood in the final.
Land O'Lakes defeated Sickles 25-19, 19-25, 25-19, 25-22 in the third-place match.
Zephyrhills, anchored by all-tournament selection Santana Lennon and junior outside hitter Hillary Tunker, went 4-1.
"I think it really benefited us to play in the tournament and come out as successful as we did," Zephyrhills coach Jerry Stacy said. "We've just got to take those things and apply it the rest of the season."
LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP: It was bad enough Wesley Chapel lost nine seniors to graduation from last season's 19-10 squad. Now, the Wildcats (1-8) could be down to one senior for the rest of the season.
Outside hitter Jasmine Cabrera injured a knee during the Hillsborough Community College tournament Saturday, leaving defensive specialist Melissa Skrzypek as the only healthy senior.
Because Cabrera played all the way around the court, it could take two players to replace her. Sophomore Brittney Scott will play the left front, with sophomore Shayla Clark taking Cabrera's place in the back row.
Coach Julie Marks hopes junior Sami Polston, Wesley Chapel's leader in kills and points, will step up to help Skrzypak, a defensive specialist.
"She's just all-around very smart," Marks said of Polston. "When she gets up there, she doesn't try to kill the ball every time. She tries to place it where the players aren't and is really doing a good job for us."
SEEKING COVER: Two Gulf players might need new homes after Hurricane Jeanne passed through the area Sunday. Junior defensive specialist Rebecca Wright is living with her grandparents after the roof caved in on her family's house. Three trees fell on junior outside hitter Kendra Lester's house.
ONE AND DONE: Wesley Chapel and Pasco each won one game in the HCC tourney. The Wildcats beat Bloomingdale and lost to Hillsborough and King. Pasco beat Bloomingdale and lost to King, Tarpon Springs and Riverview. Northeast won the nine-team event.
_ FRANK PASTOR
SAC Dist. All
Hudson 7-0 7-0 12-0
River Ridge 6-0 3-0 9-0
Mitchell 3-2 3-1 5-2
Land O'Lakes NA 0-2 3-2
Zephyrhills 3-5 2-3 7-8
Gulf 2-5 2-4 4-7
Pasco NA 1-1 1-5
Wesley Chapel 0-4 0-5 1-8
Ridgewood NA NA NA
NOTE: Land O'Lakes, Mitchell and River Ridge play in Class 5A, District 5; Gulf, Hudson, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills in 4A-10; Pasco in 3A-6.