HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
Blue Wave ready for redemption
Published: Monday, August 25, 2014 at 6:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 9:48 p.m.
If the P.K. Yonge volleyball team needs any motivation this season, all coach Chad Davis has to remind them of is that fifth set against Lake Highland Prep in the Class 4A regional finals last November. Bad memories for sure.
TOP 12 RETURNING AREA PLAYERS
*Kelly Collins, Buchholz, OH/L, Sr
Whitney Drost, Santa Fe, OH, Sr.
Kelsey Harris, Newberry, OH, Sr.
Megan Irish, Santa Fe, MB, Jr.
Sky Martin, Oak Hall, OH, Sr.
Sammy Mueller, P.K. Yonge, S, Jr.
Kaelyn Nash, Gainesville, MB, Jr.
Gabby O'Connell, P.K. Yonge, MB, Jr.
Heather Page, Eastside, OH, Sr.
Sydney Richeson, Buchholz, L, Jr.
Jennifer Rosado, Gainesville, MB, Sr.
Jac'cara Walker, P.K. Yonge, OH, Jr.
* — Injured with torn Achilles
That's the last team to beat the Blue Wave, ending their 2013 season short of their first state tournament since 2008.
It was a crushing defeat for a team that had won 22 straight matches, given up just five games in the process and were ranked No. 1 in 4A and No. 15 nationally.
The silver lining to that nightmarish ending was P.K. Yonge had just one senior in Kayla Simmons, who now plays at Marshall. The rest of the team is back, including three outstanding juniors in setter Sammy Mueller and outside hitters Gabby O'Connell and Jac'cara Walker, The Sun's Big School Player of the Year in 2013.
“The preseason has been good, they have been looking really good,” said Blue Wave coach Chad Davis, who enters his second season and is also the executive director of Gainesville Juniors. “They are practicing as hard as they can.
“They are fully aware of how the season ended last year, how they were one set from making it to the state tournament. We are not overlooking anyone, but we certainly do not intend to fall short again.”
Although the Blue Wave lost a talented middle hitter in freshman Eboni Harris, who transferred to Ocala Vanguard, they have another talented freshman middle blocker in 6-foot-4 Amanda Phegley.
“She is an incredible talent, people who don't know her will,” Davis said. “She is extremely athletic for her size and age. She brings something we desperately needed. She will take the pressure off of Gabby, who moves to the outside, and Jac'cara. Teams can't just defend the outside when you have someone that can jam it in the middle.”
P.K. Yonge, ranked No. 33 nationally in the preseason by prepvolleyball.com, opens the season Tuesday at defending 7A state champion Oviedo, ranked No. 55 nationally. Two days later it plays at Winter Springs, the No. 35 ranked team in the country. The Blue Wave don't play a home match until Sept. 25 against Tallahassee Leon.
“This is what we wanted to do, it is not about inflating your record,” Davis said. “It is about building the best program in Gainesville and the state. To build the best program, you have to play the best teams. It is going to be exciting.”
On Sept. 19-20, P.K. Yonge will play in the prestigious Berkeley Prep tournament in Tampa, which will have many of the top teams in Florida and out of state.
St. Francis and Newberry, which both reached the state tournament a year ago in Kissimmee, have new coaches. Jesus Montalvo, who coached at The Villages the last two seasons, replaces Nick Cheronis, who left after three successful years to become Santa Fe College's first volleyball coach. Montalvo is also club director of 352 Elite Volleyball.
All told, there are 10 volleyball coaches in the area who are at new schools, including former Ocala West Port coach Drew Schaeffer, who replaces Cari Martin at Oak Hall, who retired after 26 years at the school. And former Eastside coach Bob Nichols, who replaces longtime coach Stephanie Wyatt at Cornerstone Academy, which will play independent from the FHSAA in the Florida Christian Athletic League. Wyatt is the new coach at The Rock.
Sherrod Moseley, who with wife Dixie has been involved in Gainesville Beach Volleyball, replaces Dena Perry, who left for family reasons, at Newberry. The Panthers have one of the area's top players in senior outside hitter Kelsey Harris.
Buchholz, which lost in five sets at home to Oviedo in the regional quarterfinals in 2013, will open the season without standout senior Kelly Collins, who tore her Achilles during summer club competition. The Bobcats, under second-year coach and former UF player Jackie Robinson-Huggins, also have a standout libero in junior Sydney Richeson.
Gainesville, which has reached at least the regional semifinals in all three years under coach Eddie Maynard, will host St. Francis in its season opener Thursday. The Hurricanes have an outstanding junior outside hitter in Kaelyn Nash and senior middle blocker in Jennifer Rosado.
Santa Fe, under first-year coach Paqui Peon, who replaced longtime coach Michele Faulk, also has a pair of standout players in senior outside hitter Whitney Drost and junior middle blocker Meagan Irish.
Eastside, which reached the regional semifinals in Erin Maynard's first season, returns outside hitter Heather Page. The battle of the Maynards, daughter faces father on Sept. 18 at the Rams' gym and Oct. 2 at GHS.