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Rebuilding? Not really

Rebuilding is, by definition, putting something that has been dismantled back together with new parts.

Some of the side effects for coaches: long periods without winning, gray hairs, hours of frustration and a losing season.

Oh, and certainly no district championship.

These rules generally apply everywhere but the gymnasium at River Ridge, where coach Heidi Castelamare continues to churn out districts titles year after year.

Castelamare, who given two months of practice and matches could probably take six players from the school band and win 20 matches, has guided the Royal Knights - sorry, the rebuilding Royal Knights - to the postseason for the 10th time in the past 11 seasons.

Only this year, she did so with five new starters, mostly sophomores.

"She's the coach of the year in the conference, for sure,'' Gulf coach Shari Schau said. "You just don't lose the quality of players she did and repeat.''

But Schau learned long ago that when River Ridge or Hudson, the county's other playoff team, say they are rebuilding, it doesn't necessarily mean anything is going to be different.

"They both do a great job,'' she said. "But when they say they are rebuilding? No one is this county is going to fall for that."

But it's true - even Castelamare confessed to some doubts about another district championship, the program's ninth straight. Sure, she believed the Royal Knights would be okay and the playoffs were never ruled out. Champions, though?

"Oh my gosh, you should have seen them in June,'' she said. "This isn't even the same team."

This is the way it seems to go for the rest of Pasco County: Hopes rise that River Ridge or Hudson are rebuilding, but that team exceeds expectations and rolls to a district title and more, which means a more experienced group the next year will be even better and even better yet a year after that, before another "rebuilding" year and more hopes.

Rinse and repeat.

Take Hudson, which hosts Class 4A, No. 4 Groveland South Lake tonight, for example. Its last "rebuilding" season came in 2004, playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores - and reaching the state semifinals. This year, with a strong group of juniors and seniors, the Cobras rolled to conference and district titles and hope to make another run at state.

River Ridge will join them, as usual, on the ride.

John C. Cotey can be reached at (727) 869-6261 or cotey@sptimes.com

FAST FACTS

State playoffs, first round

CLASS 5A

Wharton (8-8) at River Ridge (20-6)

Outlook: The Royal Knights are led by hitters Ali Laton, Brittany Frey and Brooke Castelamare, who played well at last week's district tournament. And senior captain and libero Joy Barquin was excellent in the district final victory. The Royal Knights have not just dominated their district the past 11 years, but also their first-round region opponents. The Royal Knights are 9-1 in first-round matches and have won their past six without dropping a set. Wharton lost its district final 25-14, 25-9, 25-22 to Bloomingdale and is 0-6 lifetime in the playoffs.

Up next: If the Royal Knights win, they will host the winner of the Lake Howell-Auburndale match at 2 p.m. Saturday.

CLASS 4A

Groveland South Lake (21-2) at Hudson (26-2)

Outlook: Both teams had a relatively easy regular-season schedule in which they were rarely tested, but South Lake's was weaker. The Eagles suffered both of their losses to district rival Orlando Bishop Moore but have been impressive enough to earn a No. 4 state ranking. Hudson, which is led by setter Mary Cook, libero Sara Hampshire and a bevy of strong net players, picked up big wins against Mitchell and River Ridge and are 12-0 in first-round playoff matches. The Cobras have dropped only one set in the first round since 1996.

Up next: If the Cobras win, they will host the winner of the St. Augustine-Belleview match at 2 p.m Saturday.

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