With five seniors graduated from last year’s team, Steinbrenner players weren’t too familiar with each other when the summer began. The Warriors were a decent 16-7 under first-year coach Sabrina Christofilis in 2018, but this season felt a bit like starting over.
So Christofilis made a point of emphasizing team bonding before the season started. The Warriors met often during the summer and participated in a team camp at the University of Tampa.
“We spent a lot of time on personal and team development,” Christofilis said. “It’s getting to know each other, supporting each other, developing friendships and better relationships. We spent a lot of time together over the summer. I’d say three to four days a week. That was really beneficial to us.”
The Warriors started the season well, and have gotten better and better. They have won seven straight matches, including a 3-2 win over district rival Wharton last week. They put the finishing touches on the regular season Tuesday night with a 3-0 win over Wiregrass Ranch.
Steinbrenner (21-4) is the top seed in the Class 7A, District 7 tournament. Plant (17-7), which beat Steinbrenner a few weeks ago, is the No. 2 seed and Wharton (18-3) No. 3. All three teams are among the top 30 in the state, according to MaxPreps.
The Warriors are clearly talented. Sophomore Nina Moorer has 208 kills. Fellow sophomore Zoe Chin is equally dangerous at the net with 160 kills. Junior Lilou Stegeman has more than 100 kills and leads the team with 63 blocks.
But the players believe chemistry has been more important than talent.
“Honestly, I think all the friendships and how we connect with each other has been the key,” Moorer said. “If we make a mistake, everybody is not going to think about it for the next five plays. We’re going to get over it right then.”
Whichever team comes out of this district will earn it. Steinbrenner made it clear that it is a serious threat after its win over Wharton.
“That was a really big win for our confidence,” Stegeman said. “Now we know we can beat one of the top teams in the state. We all feel that we can only go up from here.”
Plant gears up for postseason
Plant wanted to play the toughest schedule it could prior to the district volleyball tournament. That meant hopping on a plane and flying to Phoenix, Ariz., for the Nike Tournament of Champions last weekend. The Panthers played seven matches in two days against teams from Kentucky, Arizona, Nevada and Florida.
Plant went 4-3, defeating Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, Basha of Chandler, Ariz., and Ocala Trinity Catholic, the fifth-best team in Florida according to MaxPreps.
“The team had so much fun,” coach Vanja Todorovic said. “We played some very good teams, some state-ranked teams, and did very well.”
As if the Arizona tournament wasn’t enough, Plant flew back home Sunday, then played rival Wharton on Monday night. The Panthers won 3-1 to avenge an early-season loss.
“You could see the girls were tired but they still played very well,” Todorovic said.
It certainly appears the Panthers have things figured out after starting the season 1-3.
“Our thought process was to play tough teams early on and figure out where we are,” Todorovic said. “Then we can work on some things and make sure that we are a better team at the end of the season.”