HUDSON — Look what a taste of success has done.
The Fivay volleyball team has to replace the most successful coach in Pasco County history (Linda McQuade) and the North Suncoast Player of the Year (Toni Imbimbo). But the Falcons are confident they can build on last year’s first playoff appearance.
And it shows in their demeanor.
“We’re taking things more seriously. We’re a lot quieter, more focused,” senior Briannah Nemetz said.
“No one’s joking around,” setter Jordyn Mattos added.
Clearly last year’s trip to the Class 5A region final gave this group a glimpse of something it desperately wants to revisit. And in new coach Nikki Pollock, it has someone who’s been there before.
Pollock was a big part of the historic state final run Hudson made back in 2000 — under McQuade.
“How well they did last year has everything to do with their attitude now,” Pollock said after Monday’s business-like practice. “A lot of their matches they had to really fight, a lot went five sets. Showed them they can do it, and that the effort and the focus pays off.”
That carry-over feeling, plus a summer filled with conditioning in brutal heat and some more-enjoyable team bonding activities, is all great.
But it doesn’t fill the space left by Imbimbo and her all-around talents.
Imbimbo was actually second to Nemetz in kills but was a tremendous passer and defender (5.2 digs per set). Attempting to replace her on the left side is a sophomore, Amber Lake.
“She’s going to try and step into that role. It’s a big step,” Pollock said.
Lake has already filled a tremendous role. Her house happens to be fitted with a beach volleyball court, home to many a team outing this summer.
And while that provided a tremendous fringe benefit of keeping the girls in shape, Pollock’s not about to let them rest. Monday’s 2 1/2 hours on the court were followed by: 100 skips in jump rope, 30 bicycle crunches, 10 leg-up sit-ups, 20 wall jumps, at least a minute of wall squats, more inverse sit-ups and …30 jumping jacks.
But notably, no eye rolls.
“She’s calmer than Coach McQuade, but she’s still intense,” said Nemetz’s twin sister, Ashleigh.
The Nemetz girls would know. Pollock was their JV coach as freshmen. Fortunately their faces have begun to differentiate somewhat, as compared to back then when they finally had to write their names on their cheeks to help out Pollock.
While the twins will lead more by their play, the other key senior — libero Courtney Costa — is the more vocal, rally-the-troops type. Mattos is a rock-solid junior coming off a year where she averaged 8.8 assists per set, and Alli Hudson had 100 kills as a sophomore and brings serious energy.
Returning to the playoffs is expected but no sure thing. Tarpon Springs and Dunedin, both champions of their respective districts, are new to Fivay’s grouping, and Anclote has emerged as a fierce rival. Two of the Falcons’ first four matches are visits to Tarpon (Aug. 29) and Anclote (Sept. 5).
District 5A-8 is a full house that also includes Gulf, Land O’Lakes, River Ridge and Sunlake.
Pollock has crafted a more-challenging schedule with a trip to Orlando for a tournament.
And then there’s McQuade. She still serves as a volunteer assistant and will no doubt be there to lend advice to Pollock.
“It’s not going to be strange at all. We’ve helped each other so much, and we stay together,” said Pollock, McQuade’s assistant the past two seasons.
More intriguing players/teams for 2013
Melanie Hatch, Gulf: The senior outside hitter earned honorable mention all-North Suncoast honors last fall. She’ll be one of the focal points this fall for a rebuilding Buccaneers team that won only twice last season.
Bryanna Leonard, Springstead: The senior setter was one of Hernando County’s top players last year, recording 321 assists and 42 aces. Leonard will try to help the 2011 region semifinalists rebound after earning only nine victories last fall.
Mia Lockhart, Anclote: As a junior, she totaled 168 digs and a team-high 224 kills to lead a growing program. Now one of Pasco County’s top returning players, the outside hitter will try to take the Sharks on their second postseason run in three seasons.
Alyssa Mathis, Bishop McLaughlin: The 6-foot junior has already orally committed to San Diego State. She earned all-North Suncoast honors last fall with 66 blocks and 5.2 kills per set. Now she’ll be expected to lead an improved Hurricanes team that’s poised for a breakout season.
Mitchell: The Mustangs lost two all-North Suncoast players, Jessika Hester and Lyndsey Lane, due to graduation. Shayna Filippelli will be among the seven seniors trying to lead Mitchell to its fourth consecutive playoff appearance. Can the Mustangs remain among Pasco County’s top programs?
Nature Coast: The Sharks’ top player, Courtney Skinner is gone, and so is the last remaining link between NCT and its 2011 run to the elite eight. The Sharks were very young last year and, after a 4-22 season, will be ready to improve behind senior Zavana Schmit and libero Savannah Sievers.
Ridgewood: The Rams graduated their top player, Mary Kujak, and lost their coach, Amber Starkey, who resigned to spend more time with her family. Ridgewood rode a senior-heavy team to its first district title in 22 years last year, so repeating won’t be easy under new coach Emily Lucci.
Morgan Tolle, River Ridge: The standout softball talent also ranked among the Royal Knights’ leaders in kills, assists and blocks last fall. She could be in for a big senior season for a much more experienced River Ridge squad.
Wiregrass Ranch: The Bulls were solid last year, finishing 17-6 and losing only one senior. Key returners include all-North Suncoast outside hitter Grace Olsen and setter Teddi Wright on a team gunning for its first ever playoff appearance.
Sept. 6: Holy Names tourney
Sept. 6: Clearwater Central Catholic tourney
Sept. 12: Keswick Christian Invite
Sept. 13: Bishop McLaughlin tourney
Sept. 19, 27-28: Fivay Classic
Sept. 26: Invite at Clearwater Christian College
Sept. 20: Berkeley Premier
Sept. 27: Northside Christian Tournament
Oct. 11: Bayshore Invitational
Oct. 21-25: District tournaments
Oct. 29-30: Region quarterfinals
Nov. 5: Region semifinals
Nov. 9: Region finals
Nov. 12-16: State tournament
Photo: Jordyn Mattos
Compiled by staff writer Matt Baker.