EAST COUNTY — To say Corey Hanewich was disappointed in the way the Lady Mustangs finished the 2008 volleyball season would be an understatement.
After an average season against one of the toughest districts in the area, Lakewood Ranch entered the district tournament with high expectations. But the fourth-seeded Lady Mustangs saw their season come to an unexpected halt in the opening round of the Class 5A-District 12 Championship as the fifth-seeded Charlotte Tarpons came from behind to defeat the Lady Mustangs in four games.
“Last year, we ended up losing in the district tournament, but I remember those four games were really close,” Hanewich said. “When we lost, it was really emotional. It wasn’t the best lost we’ve ever had.”
Looking to put the disappointment of last season behind them, Hanewich and fellow senior Jessica Robertson spent most of the summer in the gym conditioning and preparing for this season. As the only two returning varsity players, Hanewich and Robertson will be called upon to lead a young Lady Mustangs team.
“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” first-year varsity head coach Stacey Goodale said. “We’re a very young team, but we’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of hustle.”
Lakewood Ranch began its season Aug. 26 against Cardinal Mooney and The Out-of-Door Academy in the Cardinal Mooney Preseason Classic.
The Lady Mustangs will have their work cut out for them this season as they prepare to face a new district. After moving down to Class 4A-District 10, the Lady Mustangs are now in a district with Bayshore, Braden River, Dixie Hollins, St. Pete Lakewood, Osceola and Palmetto. St. Pete Lakewood, who won four consecutive Class 5A district titles before moving down to Class 4A this season, should prove to be the toughest test for Lakewood Ranch.
“I would like to go deeper into districts and hopefully hang closer with some of the bigger schools like Southeast,” Hanewich said. “But as a team our main goal is pretty much to demolish Braden River.”
Looking at the Lady Pirates schedule for the upcoming season, first-year head coach Steven Haugh couldn’t help but cringe.
After all, having to play volleyball powerhouses Riverview, Sarasota and defending district champions Venice and St. Pete Lakewood in a span of two weeks would be enough to rattle even the most veteran of leaders.
“Those first four games will be a big test for us to see if we can play at the highest level of volleyball this area has to offer,” Haugh said. “We’re going to find out very quickly what we’re made of.”
A season ago, the Lady Pirates advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time in school history before eventually falling to district champion DeSoto. Braden River has high hopes for this season, including making another run at the district title.
“We want to do really well in districts and hopefully do extremely well in the county tournament,” senior captain Allison Martin said. “We have a really young team, and we don’t have a lot of experience, but we have a lot of natural talent. Right now, we’re working on playing together, and hopefully then, we’ll be able to click faster and succeed faster.”
Leading the Lady Pirates this season will be Martin and fellow seniors Lauren Powell, Rachel Hubbard and Regina Aluise, regarded as one of the best setters in the area.
“We have four seniors who have been here, and we’re going to count a lot on their leadership,” Haugh said. “They’re working very hard and bringing the fun back to volleyball.”
Braden River opened its season Aug. 26 at Riverview and will begin district play against St. Pete Lakewood Sept. 9.
With 27 years of playing and coaching experience, Julio Cruz knows what it takes for a program to be successful.
Now as the new head coach of The Out-of-Door Academy’s volleyball team, Cruz is looking to take a relatively young Lady Thunder team and build off of last season.
“The No. 1 thing is can we play together as a whole,” Cruz said. “We just have to keep putting the pieces together until the puzzle is complete.”
Seniors Jonna Marchese, Alana Rogers, Colleen McGrath and Hilary Hawkins will be called upon to lead ODA this season as the Lady Thunder prepare to begin playing in Class 2A.
The new district schedule still remains somewhat of a mystery to Cruz and the Lady Thunder who will be facing a majority of the schools for the first time. Joining ODA in Class 2A-District 11 this season will be Admiral Farragut, Northside Christian School, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and Shorecrest Prep.
“My expectations are for us to win at least the district with the schools that are in our division,” Cruz said. “We have four seniors who will provide good leadership for the team. A lot of these girls have been playing together for a long time.”
The Lady Thunder began their 2009 campaign Aug. 26 against Cardinal Mooney and Lakewood Ranch in the Cardinal Mooney Preseason Classic. ODA will begin its district season Aug. 31 at Shorecrest Prep.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].