By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
There’s talent galore on the volleyball court this season amongst the four area teams.
There are also two new head coaches.
Out of the seven players The Sun recognized on last season’s all-area team, five return. Charlotte’s Shelby Beisner was the Player of the Year and is back for her junior season.
Kevin Rouse has taken over at the helm for Port Charlotte, replacing Christine Burkhart after she stepped down to an assistant role with the team. Chassity Taylor, who was an assistant coach for North Port last year, replaced Adrienne Moreno as head coach following her resignation.
The Tarpons were the area’s most successful team last season, advancing to the Region 7A-3 final before falling to Barron Collier. They didn’t drop a single district game and also went 5-0 combined against Lemon Bay, Port Charlotte and North Port. Despite losing three seniors, another district title is likely in order.
Lemon Bay just missed a playoff berth last season, falling to North Fort Myers in five sets in the District 7A-10 semifinals. All-area honoree Carolina Hill returns to lead the Manta Rays, who lost three seniors.
Port Charlotte found itself near the bottom of District 7A-10 in 2016. But the Pirates were competitive in a lot of their games and should be improved this year, led by last season’s all-area selections Kiersten Tisdale and McKenzie Stewart.
North Port is the only team in the area not in District 7A-10, instead competing in District 8A12. The Bobcats finished last in the three-team district last season to miss out on the playoffs but could get a taste of postseason play in 2017 thanks to a host of depth on a roster that includes area block leader Alexis Francavilla.
FOUR TO WATCH
Emily Vaughn, RSH Charlotte, Sr.:Vaughn made tremendous strides from her sophomore to her junior year, leading the area in kills with 247. The lefty boasted a .310 hitting percentage and also made an impact defensively with a team-high 36 blocks.
Caroline Hill, OH Lemon Bay, Jr.: Hill was the Manta Rays’ top player last season, doing a little bit of everything. She led the team with 151 kills and 61 blocks, both of which were near the best in the area. She also chipped in with 16 aces and 35 digs.
Kiersten Tisdale, OH Port Charlotte, So.: Tisdale had a breakout freshman year as one of the area’s top offensive players. She had a team-high 218 kills and provided plenty of defense with 158 digs. The Pirate also has a nice serve, finishing her first season with 34 aces.
Alexis Francavilla, OH North Port, Sr.:Francavilla is defensive monster who has the offensive firepower to match. She led the area with 64 blocks last season and was among the best with 160 kills to lead the Bobcats.
Coach: Michelle Dill (9th season)
District 7A-10: Cape Coral, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte.
Last year: Lost to Barron Collier in region final.
Key players lost: Kaylee Brannon, Michelle Bunch, Jessica Moore.
Key players returning: Abby Hayse (Sr., L), Emily Vaughn (Sr., RSH), Shelby Beisner (Jr., OH), Kaitlyn Chavarria (Jr., MH), Skylar Gribben (Jr., OH), Alani Qualls (Jr., MH).
Promising newcomers: Sydney Thomas (Jr., S).
Outlook: The Tarpons aren’t tall, but they’re still athletic. They’ll look a little different on the court this season but they’re once again full of girls who can jump out of the gym. Most of their offensive firepower returns this season, and if they can match that with the growth of a new libero and setter, they should make another deep playoff run.
Coach: Pat Auer (2nd season)
District 7A-10: Charlotte, Cape Coral, Ida Baker, Island Coast North Fort Myers, Port Charlotte.
Last year: 12-14, lost to North Fort Myers in district semifinal.
Key players lost: Haylee Layne, Kacee Nelson, Breanna Nelson, Ryan Carley, Aimee Holt, Emily Schulte.
Key players returning: Francesca Gallucci (Sr., MH), Skylar Goddard (Sr., L), Lauren Maheu (Sr., S), Madison Taylor (Sr., S), Caroline Hill (Jr., OH), Julia Ford (Jr., DS), Leanna Kelly (Jr., DS), Hannah Krzysiak (So., OH), Maggie Poulakis (So., RSH).
Promising newcomers: None.
Outlook: Auer sees nothing but great things from the Manta Rays, who are playing up nearly two classifications. If the Manta Rays can play to their potential, expect make them back to the district semifinals and compete for a playoff berth.
Coach: Kevin Krause (1st season).
District 7A-10: Charlotte, Cape Coral, Ida Baker, Island Coast, Lemon Bay, North Fort Myers
Last year: 6-20, lost to Ida Baker in district quarterfinal.
Key players lost: Jordan Jensen, Nicole Nava.
Key players returning: Celia Baerman (Sr., MB/OH), Kaelyn Griffiths (Sr., Util), McKenzie Stewar_t (Jr., Util), Zoe Burkhar_t (So., L), Sam DiBene (So., MB), Kiersten Tisdale (So., OH).
Promising newcomers: Macenzie Krause (Sr.), Alicia Kowalski (Fr.), Laticia Nina (Fr.), Maddie Paul (Fr.).
Outlook: Don’t expect this to be the same squad from the past few seasons. The Pirates spent a lot of time on the practice court and in the weight room over the summer in preparation for a turnaround year. Krause believes the Pirates are poised for a promising season thanks to a good balance of veterans and newcomers.
Coach: Chassity Taylor (1st season).
District 8A-12: Gulf Coast, Riverdale.
Last year: 7-13, lost to Riverdale in district semifinal.
Key players lost: Raychel Sipe, Sam Tennant, Summer Fisher, Michaela Magnapera, Lindsey Miller.
Key players returning: Alexis Francavilla (Sr., OH), Lindsey Matthews (Sr., Util), Maddie Powers (Sr., L).
Promising newcomers: Olivia Deivert (Fr., DS), Maquela Ridley (Jr., MH).
Outlook: Depth is the key for the Bobcats this season. Taylor says she has multiple girls who can play that add something different to the court. If the Bobcats can work together and gel, that should pave the way for an improvement in a tough district and possibly a playoff berth.