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Fall Sports Preview 2017: Girls’ Volleyball

A look at what to expect from the upcoming season of girls’ high-school volleyball

The Geneva School’s girls’ volleyball team, featuring Jordyn Stiger (No. 11)

Apopka Blue Darters

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Approximately half of the Lady Blue Darters’ 2016 team graduated after the season, making room for returning players—almost all of whom will be seniors—and newcomers to prove themselves. Seniors expected back include opposite hitter/middle blocker Maricarmen Jaimes, setter Emily Weaver and outside hitter/right-side hitter Cameryn Wigmore.

OUTLOOK: Although Apopka made it to the postseason in 2016, having placed second in District 9A-3, they lost their regional quarterfinals series to Lake Nona, 3-1. With about half of last year’s squad expected to return, Coach Jamie Lillethorup will have plenty of talent to draw on as she tries to take the squad further this season.

Boone Braves

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Boone will be welcoming back several key players from last year’s winning team. Seniors will include outside hitter Yesenia Lorenzo, middle blocker Julia Alves and outside hitter Erin Carte. Libero Kestae Alexander and outside hitter Lily Baker will return as juniors, and middle blocker Clara Flint will be a sophomore.

OUTLOOK: “[In 2017], Lady Braves Volleyball is looking forward to continuing the tradition of excellence,” says Coach Paul Furukawa. “In our 2016 season, through some tough matches, we managed to end the season with a 9-0 Eastern Metro Conference and 5-0 [9A-4] district record but lost in the regional round. We look to improve in our postseason play in 2017.”

Celebration Storm

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Storm will be fielding a young women’s team in 2017, with just four seniors scheduled to play, including outside hitter/setter Glerysbeth Thillet and defensive specialist/libero Abby Dand. Also slated to return is junior libero/defensive specialist Yelika Hernandez and sophomore Andrea Colon-Barber, who’s also on Celebration’s weightlifting team.

OUTLOOK: Under Coach Pedro Davila, the Storm missed out on last year’s Class 8A championship tournament, having gone 9-6 in the regular season but just 2-4 against fellow District 6 opponents to finish in fifth place. As this will be a bit of a rebuilding year, the infusion of new players could be just what the team needs to achieve more on the court.

Colonial Grenadiers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: There is lots of rebuilding in the Lady Grenadiers’ future, given that only two of last year’s players are expected to return: incoming senior Alyssa Tompkins and incoming junior Karelys Garcia. At the same time, there could well be a diamond-in-the-rough waiting to be discovered among this year’s crop.

OUTLOOK: When asked for her outlook on the upcoming season, Colonial Coach Giovanna Corona offered words immortalized by fictional boxer Rocky Balboa that she often shares with her players: “…[You] gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that, and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

Cypress Creek Bears

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “I am excited for our upcoming senior outside hitter Alondra Ramos, whose athleticism and skill led Cypress Creek in kills and hitting percentage in 2016,” says Lady Bears Coach Aysha Nickels. “She will be a key part of our success next year. Alongside her will be senior setter Stephanie Occil and senior right-side hitter Kynnydy McCullough. I am looking forward to watching them lead the younger girls to success.”

OUTLOOK: “Next season will be a rebuilding year after losing five seniors and four key role players,” adds Nickels, whose team plays in District 9A-5. Last season, they ranked third overall in that district and will be eager to improve that standing.

Dr. Phillips Panthers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “We will have Mallory Porcher (middle blocker) and Marika Virthe (middle blocker) as our top two players, and they are very dominant in the middle,” says Dr. Phillips Coach Danny Eleutiza. Porcher will be a junior this season with Virthe coming in as a sophomore.

OUTLOOK: “This year, our team will be a very young and very talented team,” says Eleutiza. Given that 2016’s Lady Panthers ranked first in District 9A-5 to earn a postseason berth before being taken out by Riverview in the regional semifinals, new players will have some sizable shoes to fill, but Dr. Phillips’ tradition of excellence and Eleutiza’s expertise should help them realize their goals.

East River Falcons

PLAYERS TO WATCH: While it might not pay dividends for them this season, East River could benefit from the fact that most of their returning players will be juniors, giving them another year to gain experience before their final season of high school play. Look for Elaina Cooke, Kaley Alexander, Lauren Wells, Toni Gomez and Zai Walton to be top performers.

OUTLOOK: Things can only improve for the Lady Falcons, who won just three matches in 2016, and none against other 8A-5 teams, to finish last in District 8A-5. Given that no seniors are expected to play this season, the squad’s hopes will lie at least partially with incoming talent.

Edgewater Eagles

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Incoming seniors Amanda Solomon, Hannah Hartsgrove, Liana Rodriguez and Sharon Yehnert should provide much-needed experience to what will be a relatively young Lady Eagles team. Also expected to return are juniors Essence Poteat, Maya Surrency, Sydney Taylor and Victoria Fisher, as well as sophomore Madelynn Sinn.

OUTLOOK: Coach Ciara Jones led Edgewater on a great run last season, going undefeated in District 7A-6 and making it to the regional semifinals before going out against New Smyrna Beach. Look for the seniors to play a key role in bringing younger returning players and newcomers up to speed.

evans trojans

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Two seniors to watch on this year’s Evans team are Brittaney Smith and Nordia Simmonds. The latter’s sister, Aysha, should be back, too, along with fellow juniors Katrina Asson, Shareya Newsome and Tekira Baker.

OUTLOOK: The 2016 season wasn’t fun for the Lady Trojans, who won just two games all year and none in District 9A-3, putting them in last place at the end. Most of that team is expected back this year, though, and another year of experience could do wonders for their chances in 2017.

The First Academy Royals

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior setter Matti McKissock, who was named to last year’s All-Area team, will lead the First Academy’s crop of returning players. Other seniors will include defensive specialist Meghan Coons, setter Talia Harb, outside hitter Sydney Ellis and opposite hitter Melanie Pearce. Juniors Macy Laegeler, Abby Moore, Emily Oerther and Maddy Richards will also bear watching.

OUTLOOK: Talk about a great 2016—not only did the Lady Royals sweep District 4A-3, but they rolled on to win the Class 4A state championship, ranking as Florida’s No. 5 team and No. 79 nationwide. Better still, Coach Haley Malone won’t have much rebuilding to worry about, as just two players graduated at the end of the season.

Freedom Patriots

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The girls’ volleyball team at Freedom will be led by three strong seniors: Sarabi Worsley-Gilbert, an outside hitter who has verbally committed to play volleyball for Texas State University; Meghan Mora, setter; and Arianna Colon, outside hitter. Other exciting talent includes sophomore middle hitter Valerie Albizu and sophomore outside hitter Corinne Rupp.

OUTLOOK: The Freedom girls’ volleyball program continues to get stronger each year,” says Coach Barbara Lansing. “The Lady Patriots return quite a few players who love the game and really enjoy working together. … The Lady Patriots also welcome new players to keep the program growing and look forward to a great season.”

Geneva Knights

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “We have a terrific group of girls coming back who are ready to work hard and play some great volleyball this season,” says Lady Knights Coach Hollie Bates. “Our rising senior Jordyn Stiger will play a big role in our success, as she is hopeful to take her game to the next level and play college in the fall of 2018.”

OUTLOOK: “We are really excited about the upcoming season with seven returners,” says Bates. “We hope to finish as well as we did last year even after losing three seniors and finishing second in the state.” Making their appearance in Florida’s Class 2A state championship even more impressive is that the team entered the tournament after finishing second in District 5.

Jones Tigers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Six members of Jones’ 2016 team are expected back as seniors this season: Claire Pate, Janae Edwards, Kristian Williams, Trinity Bryan, Widlyne Israel and Yoanni Rijo-Marte. Incoming juniors include Dezarae Taylor, Diamond Donaldson and Jaida Sears.

OUTLOOK: After failing to win a single game in 2016 and finishing dead last in District 5A-6 play as a result, the Lady Tigers clearly have their work cut out for them. Although most of last year’s squad is expected to return, Coach Linda Hernandez will need to find better motivational methods if they hope to be taken seriously in 2017.

Lake Highland Prep Highlanders

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Lake Highland Prep’s (LHP’s) girls’ volleyball team will return a majority of players from last year’s championship run. The team will be led by senior outside hitter Taylor O’Neal, who was named to 2016’s All-Area team.

OUTLOOK: Last year, despite ranking third overall in District 5A-6, the Lady Highlanders entered the state championship and made it to the Class 5A finals, where they fought Westminster Christian hard before falling, 3-2. “The team had several community service and team-building commitments over the summer, including team camp; LHP’s summer camp for grades 3-8, where the high-school players spend a week teaching skills, [conducting] workouts and team bonding,” says Coach Erin Fleming.

Lake Howell High School’s Alyssa Young and Vienna Kriekard

Lake Howell Silverhawks

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Junior middle blocker Alyssa Young, who also plays competitively with the Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy, will be a dominant player this season. Other returners will include senior libero Bianca Tirado, senior outside hitter Hannah Young, senior setter Nicole Thomas and junior outside hitter Vienna Kriekard.

OUTLOOK: “We graduated seven seniors, so next season will depend on five returners for leadership,” says Lady Silverhawks Coach Vicky Hilbert. Last season, her players made it to the postseason but lost in the regional quarterfinals to Hagerty. Repeating or exceeding that level of success might be difficult with a young team, but they’ll be working hard toward that goal.

Lake Mary Prep Griffins

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Notable players returning to the Lake Mary Prep squad include senior and team captain Anna Hogenmiller, junior Lauryn Dawson, sophomore Nina Nikolic, senior Madison Burney, senior Lauren Upper and senior Reena Sharma.

OUTLOOK: “Our goal is for our team to develop into a serious contender in our district and compete for the district championship,” says Lady Griffins Coach Carlos Pizarro. Considering that 2016’s team finished last in District 3A-2 and was swept by district opponents, Lake Mary Prep has a way to go to meet that goal, but improved play from returning players and an infusion of new talent could be all they need.

Lake Nona Lions

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Lady Lions will benefit from some key returning players in 2017. They include senior outside hitters Fatima Rajaee and Mikaela Juda, as well as junior setter Brooke Fogel.

OUTLOOK: “I am very excited about the 2017 girls’ volleyball season,” says Lake Nona Coach Heather Hansen, whose team made it to the Class 9A regional semifinals last year. “We will have many talented players returning this year, and we have a positive outlook on the season. We will be rebuilding, and we look forward to getting started on working on team chemistry and building a solid foundation for the year. We have high hopes for the program this year to continue its success within the county and state competitions.”

The Master’s Academy girls’ volleyball team

The Master’s Academy Eagles

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Lady Eagles Coach Marisela Brown pinpoints four players expected to heat up the court in 2017.They include middle hitters Haley Goodrich and Karley Baringer, outside hitter Chelsea Salmon and defensive specialist Noelle Kelly. An impressive 6’3” tall, Baringer should provide the squad with plenty of reach.

OUTLOOK: “[We’re] looking forward to a well-rounded, competitive season for our athletes,” says Brown. Last season, The Master’s Academy had a rough go of it in District 5A-6, finishing in fifth place overall, but with some lucky breaks, they could have a much better outing this year.

Oak Ridge Pioneers

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Oak Ridge is expected to benefit from the return of several experienced players in 2017. Seniors should include Cassandra Kamien, Kamryn Woods, Taylor Evans and Tiannaiz Rainey. They’ll be backed up by sophomore Stacy Rodriguez, as well as juniors Kennedy Logan, Magdalena Berroa-Robinson, Maggie Berte and Tawhany Delgado-Rivera.

OUTLOOK: Last season was tough for the Lady

Pioneers, who weren’t able to make any headway against District 9A-5 opponents and finished last as a result. But if Coach Jacquelyn Hayward can squeeze some more out of her returners and inspire newcomers, anything is possible.

Ocoee Knights

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “We are happy about some of our up-and-coming players who are definitely ones to watch, such as [outside hitter] Christin Lewis, [right-side hitter] Emily Ratcliff and [right-side hitter] Brooke Kennedy,” says Ocoee Coach Cathy Lee.

OUTLOOK: “Ocoee High School girls’ volleyball team will be in a rebuilding year, as we had some of our strong players graduate,” says Lee, who also notes that they’re looking forward to the 2017 season. As the Lady Knights finished fifth in District 8A-5, though, a rebuilding year could be just what the doctor ordered.

Olympia Titans

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Olympia Coach Mitch Sadowsky pinpoints Johnna Shanley, Mya Wilson and Alix Polk as three players who will have huge impacts on the team’s fortunes this season. Wilson will be playing as a junior, with Shanley and Polk coming back as seniors.

OUTLOOK: “I’m pretty excited for the group we have coming back,” says Sadowsky. “We have a lot of good, young players coming up, but we also have an experienced veteran group, as well. I think we should have a pretty good season.” Last year, the team finished second in District 9A-5 but bowed out after the state championship’s regional quarterfinals.

Timber Creek Wolves

PLAYERS TO WATCH: “I would say our top returning players would be Jackie Farris—she’ll be our junior outside hitter—and Jenna McNamara, our returning sophomore outside hitter,” says Timber Creek Coach Cameron Stevens. “They are two of our best players on the team who are our leaders. They’re definitely going to contribute a lot this upcoming season.”

OUTLOOK: “I think our ball control should be a little bit better this year, and I think that’ll help us offensively,” says Stevens. “I know we’re going to be very centered around our defense, especially the libero position and [defensive specialists] that are going to come in. We’re going to be very defensive-minded instead of worrying so much about offense. If we have good ball control, I think we’ll be OK.”

Trinity Prep Saints

PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Lady Saints will return five starters and 10 players overall. They include seniors Elizabeth Fenichel (setter), Cori Gray (middle blocker), Chloe Mourad (defensive specialist), Teagan Sullivan (rightside hitter), Taylor Talbert (setter) and Julia Wilson (libero).

OUTLOOK: “It’s been several years since we’ve had this much returning varsity experience and depth,” says Trinity Prep Coach Jeff Wilson. “We feel like we can pick up right where we left off last year and build from the lessons that the team learned. We expect our new additions to have an immediate impact, too. We look forward to testing ourselves in a tremendously challenging district.”

University Cougars

PLAYERS TO WATCH: About half of University’s 2016 squad was lost to graduation, but many players are expected back this season. They include seniors Kaitlin Smith, Maria Montalvo-Abreu, Maya Carballo, Sydne Wimberger, Sylvia Simmons and Vanessa Kollcaku, plus junior Carolina Almeda and sophomore Lanna Sauls.

OUTLOOK: After a season in which they finished last in 9A-4 and had no victories against district rivals, Coach Christine Richardville’s Lady Cougars will be looking to step up their game in a big way. With a little luck, new and experienced players alike will mesh well and come up with a winning formula.

Wekiva Mustangs

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Defensive specialist Kayla Elie and libero Jasmin Zackery, both seniors, are expected to lead the Lady Mustangs through the 2017 season. Also set to return are setter Nareliz Medina and right-side hitter Derionah Abner, who will both be juniors.

OUTLOOK: After winning just half of their games against 9A-3 opponents, the girls’ volleyball team at Wekiva had to settle for third place in their district and subsequently missed the championship tournament. Of course, all it takes is one key newcomer or improved performance from more experienced players to make a difference in their fortunes.

West Orange Warriors

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior outside hitter Makala Heidelberg, who was an All-Area player last season, will lead 2017’s crop of returning players. Other seniors expected back include defensive specialist Sydney Bowles and middle hitter Baylor Bumford.

OUTLOOK: It’s safe to say that West Orange was pleased with last season’s results, given that they won their district after going undefeated against 9A-3 opponents, made it to the regional finals in last year’s Class 9A state championship, and wound up ranked as the No. 13 team statewide. Going even further will be up to Coach Ross Usie and his returning players, but with just two Lady Warriors graduating last year, their odds look good.

Winter Park Wildcats

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Libero Mallory Downing, who broke a Winter Park record for digs last season as a freshman, will return. “She’ll be challenged by two other defensive players—Megan Adams and Maeve Billings,” says Coach Stephanie Gibson. “We’ve got an incredibly athletic setter/right-side hitter in Lauren Musante that will do a fantastic job for us a six-rotation player. Our other setter is Autumn Little-Phillips, and she will set the back court for us. We also have three strong pin hitters that we’re expecting big things from this year: Emily Jordan, Bella Ahearn and Parker Joseph.”

OUTLOOK: “We only graduated two players from last year’s team, albeit key players,” says Gibson. Still, last year’s squad was fairly young, and returning players will have more experience to draw on.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2017 issue.