Against all odds

The Gainesville Sun 2003 high school volleyball players of the year: (from left) Nirelle Hampton, Kelsey Bowers, Janine Williams, Michelle Stalbaum and Bailey Williams.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at 12:09 a.m.



  • CLASS: A-2A.
  • NAME: Perry McDonald.
  • SCHOOL: P.K. Yonge.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS: In his first season, led the Blue Wave to the state championship match, a district title and a 22-10 record, despite going much of the season without two of his best players.
  • CLASS: 3A-5A.
  • NAME: Shari Bishop.
  • SCHOOL: Bradford.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Led the Tornadoes to the elite eight, a district title and a 16-13 record with just one club player. Bishop's teaching each year has helped make Bradford into one of the area's most consistently good programs.
  • CLASS: 3A-5A.
  • NAME: Cindy Boulware.
  • SCHOOL: Gainesville.
  • ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Led the Hurricanes to the state championship with a 32-0 record. GHS ended the year ranked in the top 10 nationally by, and won 92 of 100 games played.

  • When the 2002 high school volleyball season ended, P.K. Yonge had just left The Lakeland Center with its second state championship in three years. Add to that the fact that almost everyone was expected back and talk of a repeat was prevalent.
    Gainesville, on the other hand, had just lost tobeen defeated by Tampa Plant in the 4A title match. After winning the first game, the Hurricanes had looked overmatched in the final two, leading some to wonder about whether GHS - also with a nearly full complement of players returning in 2003 - would be able to add a second championship to the one it earned in 2000.
    It's funny how a year can change perceptions.
    P.K. Yonge had what could kindly be considered a rocky offseason, as Blue Wavefirst coach Laurie Obreza was dismissed when parents complained about her coaching style. Then, Miss Volleyball winner Marcie Hampton - generally regarded as the nation's top recruit - tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the spring.
    Former Eastside coach Perry McDonald entered the picture with energy and enthusiasm, but even his spirits were dampened when all-state outside hitter Elyse Cusack tore her ACL mere just weeks into the season.
    At GHS, meanwhile, the feeling of underachieving in last year's title match inspired the Hurricanes to improve to the point where there would be no emptiness at the end of this season.
    And they didn't just capture a state title, they grabbed a bit of history as well, winning the 4A title and going 32-0 to finish with a top-10 national ranking.
    Gainesville was joined at the final four by the Blue Wave, who overcame adversity to finish as the state runner-up to traditional power Tampa Berkeley Prey.
    As different as the two teams' stories are, they have one very big similarity - neither program accomplished their remarkable runs on the strength of just one standout player.
    P.K. Yonge's 5-foot-11 junior setter/outside hitter Nirelle Hampton and 6--0 sophomore middle blocker Janine Williams share The Sun's Class A-2A player of the year award because, with Marcie Hampton out all but six postseason matches and Cusack shelved the bulk of the schedule, someone had to step up for the Blue Wave and they did.
    Nirelle Hampton, primarily a setter in the past, was asked to hit more than ever. The result was 289 kills to go along with her 515 assists and tremendous floor awareness.
    Williams was told she needed to be more assertive and know that she can't just be comfortable as a role player who was growing into a star. She needed to become a star now, and she responded with 457 kills and 57 blocks.
    "I became a little bit more of a leader this year," Williams said. "I got a little more fired up and talkative. I think it helped me."
    A few miles north on 13th Street, the Hurricanes had a trio of hitters thatwho were the talk of Florida and are now The Sun's 3A-5A players of the year.
    Senior outside hitters Bailey Williams and Michelle Stalbaum joined junior middle blocker Kelsey Bowers in forming what was undoubtedly a preparation nightmare for opposing coaches.
    After all, on one side, you have the quiet but steady Williams, a Winthrop signee who completed the season with a team-best 334 kills and 334 digs. On the other side was the hardly shy 5-10 Stalbaum, a South Florida signee who coach Cindy Boulware once joked "never had a ball she didn't call for."
    Stalbaum finished with 302 kills and 244 service points en route to winning this year's Miss Volleyball award.
    And in the middle stood the 6-2 Bowers, a class-clown type off the court, but scary good on it, evidenced by her 331 kills, 89 blocks and the scholarship offers she already has received from UF, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State.
    To say it was an enjoyable year for the Hurricanes would be the ultimate in understatements.
    "In past years, GHS has always been good," Stalbaum said. "But this season, we had six starters that could make a big play for us (including junior setter Rose Burke, who was the final four MVP) when we needed it, and it was a great luxury to have.
    "I really can't complain about anything."
    John Patton is The Sun's high school sports editor. You can reach him by calling 374-5074 or by e-mail at


  • Nirelle Hampton, P.K. Yonge, Jr., 5-11, S/OH, 515 assists, 289 kills, 315 SP, 100 aces.
  • Janine Williams, P.K. Yonge, Soph., 6-0, MB, 457 kills, 57 blocks
  • Michelle Whitney, P.K. Yonge, Sr., 5-9, S, 591 assists, 211 SP, 110 kills
  • Kelley Blakewood, Oak Hall, Jr., 5-9, OH, 226 kills, 301 digs, 184 SP
  • Kelly Davies, Oak Hall, Jr., 5-9, OH, 226 digs, 196 kills, 150 assists, 149 SP
  • Fran Carter, Chiefland, Sr., 6-1, MB, Indians' top player received two player of year nominations SECOND TEAM
  • Callie Keen, Dixie County, Jr., 5-10, MH, 192 kills, 112 blocks, 86 digs, 84 SP
  • Lindsay Schaeffer, Oak Hall, Sr., 6-0, MB, 297 digs, 185 SP, 160 kills, 57 blocks
  • Shadana Williams, Hawthorne, Jr., 5-8, S, 337 assists, 209 SP, 101 digs, 66 kills, 64 aces
  • Kittery Neale, Oak Hall, Jr., 6-0, MB, 240 digs, 202 kills, 121 SP, 48 blocks
  • Courtney Mauldin, Bell, Jr., 6-0, MH, 265 kills, 152 blocks, 147 digs, 45 aces, 26 assists
  • Meghan Milatz, Fort White, Sr., 5-9, S, 347 assists, 92 kills, 48 aces, 16 kills THIRD TEAM
  • Candace Edmonds, Dixie County, Jr., 5-5, S, 190 assists, 120 SP, 55 aces, 54 digs, 26 kills
  • Tiffany Bratcher, Fort White, Sr., 5-10, MH, 146 kills, 135 digs, 49 aces, 19 blocks
  • Ashley Painter, Branford, Sr., 5-4, S, 253 assists, 129 SP, 128 kills, 30 aces
  • Bianca Pope, Trenton, Jr., 6-0, MB, 218 kills, 153 blocks
  • Kristina Nappy, Hawthorne, Sr., 5-7, DS, 240 digs, 162 SP, 34 assists
  • Sarah Bishop, Trenton, Jr., 5-7, S, 153 assists, 71 kills, 46 aces for 18-3 team CLASS 3A-5A FIRST TEAM
  • Bailey Williams, Gainesville, Sr., 6-0, OH, 334 kills, 334 digs, 287 SP, 64 blocks
  • Michelle Stalbaum, Gainesville, Sr., 5-10, OH, 302 kills, 244 SP, 158 digs, 97 aces
  • Kelsey Bowers, Gainesville, Jr., 6-2, MB, 331 kills, 183 SP, 158 digs, 89 blocks
  • Rose Burke, Gainesville, Jr., 5-9, S, 998 assists, 162 SP, 59 digs, final four MVP
  • Christina Lopez, Bradford, Sr., 5-10, S, 524 assists, 216 digs, 195 kills, 195 SP
  • Megan Hough, Santa Fe, Sr., 5-6, S, 624 assists, 224 SP, 67 digs, 43 kills SECOND TEAM
  • Sara Ellis, Buchholz, Sr., 5-10, S, 431 assists, 179 digs, 175 SP, 139 kills
  • Claire Yonutas, Buchholz, Sr., 6-0, OH, 227 kills, 184 digs, 125 SP, 52 blocks
  • Alesha Busch, Buchholz, Sr., 5-10, OH, 236 kills, 344 digs, 205 SP, 81 aces
  • Katie Butcher, Santa Fe, Soph., 5-6, OH, 190 kills, 177 SP, 79 digs, 40 aces
  • Nicole Keroack, Eastside, Sr., 5-11, OH, 224 kills, 224 digs, 52 aces, 37 blocks
  • Kit Niesen, Eastside, Jr., 6-1, MH, 192 kills, 88 blocks THIRD TEAM
  • Paris Bennett, Bradford, Jr., 4-11, DS, 261 digs, 132 SP, 84 kills, 42 aces
  • Melissa Hale, Bradford, Sr., 5-8, RS, 249 digs, 109 SP, 112 kills, 59 assists
  • Natosha Newman, Bradford, Soph., 5-8, MB, 237 kills, 163 digs, 76 SP, 21 aces
  • Carrie Green, Keystone Heights, Sr., 5-7, OH, 440 digs, 189 kills, 35 aces
  • Emilee Hoover, Keystone Heights, Sr., 5-8 MB, 131 kills, 58 blocks, 305 digs
  • Hannah Johnson, Santa Fe, Sr., 5-11, MB, 163 SP, 191 kills, 61 blocks, 39 ace HONORABLE MENTION (all classes)
  • Bell - Jillian Voorhees (Jr. OH), Melissa Mathews (Jr. S), Jessica Sauerman (Jr. MH); Branford - Kershta Mitchell (Soph. OH), Morgan Walker (Sr. OH), Elisha Aderholt (So. OH); Buchholz - Kate Norris (Sr. DS), Hilary Patrick (Jr. S); Dixie County - Ashley Smyrnios (Sr. DS), Megan Marsh (Sr. OH), Megan Stewart (Sr. S), Megan Carmichael (Sr. OH), Nicole Hall (Sr. OH); Eastside - Marin Gibson (Jr. OH), Katie Lee (Jr. S); Fort White - Alli Presnel (Sr. MH); Gainesville - Jerica Carter (Jr. DS), Tierney Hodge (Jr. MB); Hawthorne - Adrian Styles (Sr. MH), Jamie Sparkman (Sr. DS), Christina Watson (Jr. DS), Melinda Pons (Sr. DS); Keystone Heights - Brittany Meng (Sr. DS), Jessica Ford (Soph. S); Oak Hall - Kendall Obreza (Soph. S); P.K. Yonge - Marcie Hampton (Sr. OH/MB), Megan Deluca (Jr. DS); Santa Fe - Lauren DeGrove (Jr. OH), Bekah Babston (Jr. MB); Trenton - Lynsey Jenkins (Jr. OH).
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