High school volleyball season begins Monday, Aug. 22. What are Plant City-area teams capable of?
In just a few weeks, area volleyball teams will hit the hardwood and go for district gold.
Plant City and Strawberry Crest are both hoping to catch Durant, winner of three consecutive district championships, by surprise this year and snap the streak. The chase for the crown begins Monday, Aug. 22, and it won’t come easy.
No matter what kind of talent head coach Brittany Wade loses each year, the Lady Cougars seem to end up on the top of the leaderboard.
After a slow start last year, losing three of their first four games, the Lady Cougars found their rhythm and went into the district title game against Crest with a 13-7 record, including a perfect 6-0 district record. The 3-1 win over the Lady Chargers — also Wade’s 100th as a coach — led to the team making it as far as the regional semifinals.
Emma Rustenberghe and Sarah Herman won first-team honors in the Western Conference Federal Division, while then-senior Brittany Bowman was named to the second team. Wade was named Coach of the Year.
Rustenberghe, a senior, and Herman, a junior, will be back. With talent returning and Wade at the helm, penciling Durant into the district championship match wouldn’t be far fetched.
Second-year coach Cathy Martin likes what she’s seeing from her Lady Raiders squad.
Plant City, which finished the 2015 season with a 9-8 record (3-3 district), had one player — libero Jacey Hooker — earn first-team Western Conference honors in the Federal Division. Hooker will lead a squad that, in Martin’s opinion, is deep at every position.
Martin had the girls spend the offseason working out at CrossFit Plant City. She says the training helped the team improve its blocking, hitting and quickness on the court. She expects the team’s serving to be a strong point.
This year, Martin’s goal is to have the team make it out of the first round of districts, where it was knocked out by Durant last year.
“We’re not always the tallest athletes,” Martin says. “But we play with a lot of determination and intensity.”
The Lady Chargers are getting a new look this season, as head coach Morgan Miltner stepped away from the program to focus on her teaching endeavors.
Gina Giunta, who joined Crest’s staff before this school year, replaces Miltner as head coach. Giunta, a reading teacher, has coached volleyball and basketball in Florida and Tennessee, at the middle and high school levels.
In 2015, the Lady Chargers finished with a 15-9 record (5-1 district) and made it to the regional semifinals. It was the team’s second consecutive district championship game appearance, and the girls put up a fight against their crosstown rivals.
The Lady Chargers had a pair of seniors, Terra Brooks and Alex Calescibetta, earn Western Conference National Division honors. Brooks was named to the first team, and Calescibetta was named to the second team.
Replacing them will be a tough task, but Giunta says the team’s balance will be a big asset.
“I think the girls have a strong bond,” Giunta says. “Everyone is even. I’m excited to see who is going to come out of the dust and be an amazing player.”
Contact Justin Kline at email@example.com.