Winning seasons had eluded Springstead volleyball in the past, but Darcy Hinton was determined to give the program a makeover.
The coach began by lobbying for new uniforms. Athletic director Bob Levija came through with the new look.
"That was vital," the Eagles' second-year coach said. "They needed to see it was going to be a new beginning. Without any tangible evidence, we had to be looking for and showing them why things were different. You get people who tell you things all the time. You're looking for the evidence that things are different."
Springstead went on to a 13-13 season in those uniforms. The Eagles earned a stunning victory in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament, knocking Wiregrass Ranch off its home court. Then the Eagles pushed Nature Coast in three tough games despite being swept to finish the season.
Springstead walked away one win shy of a winning season and a playoff berth, but with something to build on for '09.
"I thought we felt pretty good," sophomore setter Allyson Schillinger said. "We broke the losing streak we used to have. You could see the program progressing."
The last winning season came in 1993 when Lionel Thornton guided the Eagles to a 16-5 finish and second place in the Sunshine Athletic Conference (when Hernando and Pasco county teams played in the SAC) at 12-2.
This season, the Eagles are off to a 4-0 start with a critical match against Central tonight followed by the Springstead Invitational beginning Friday.
Hinton said it's a struggle to get the girls to buy into her demanding coaching style.
"What I'm asking of them is to set standards higher than most people," Hinton said. "That's a difficult thing to sell to today's kids. I'm trying to convince them they need to outwork everyone, and it's the only true path to excellence. You have to outwork everybody."
That means tough practice sessions aimed at not only improving on past mistakes, but excelling in all facets of a match.
This is not simply a tactic Hinton brings to the volleyball court. At home, she raises her three children, ages 7, 9 and 14, to outwork everyone. They recently enrolled in a private school with what Hinton believes are great demands.
"I needed some outside validation for making these kids work this hard," Hinton said. "In families, they're teaching kids to work hard and stay late. They need a coach that can teach them the same thing, teaching them the same values at school as they learn at home."
Back at practice, the Eagles say they are working hard to answer their coach's daily demands.
"It's true she's strict , but she's fair," sophomore hitter Carly Wiggins said. "She does everything in her best interest for us. You can tell how much she has made a difference. She pours her heart and soul into the team and you can tell."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 421-3886.