Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
How would the Braden River High beach volleyball team follow up winning a regional tournament in its inaugural season?
Doing it again in year two.
The Pirates, which returned nine players from last year’s team, have made winning regionals the new normal. At the Sunshine State Athletic Conference-sanctioned tournament, held April 16 in Sarasota, they defeated Riverview High’s ‘B’ team 5-0 before taking down Tarpon Springs High 3-2. In the finals, the Pirates beat Charlotte High 4-1.
With the win, Braden River is headed to the state tournament held April 26-27 in Taveras. It may seem like Braden River’s road to states was easy, but Pirates coach Matthew McElhiney said it was the opposite.
“It was an expectation to get back to states,” McElhiney said. “But they (the SSAC) added several programs this year. The talent level increased this year across the board in terms of depth. It was more of a challenge to get back than last year. We played some good competition this year and were pretty consistent. All our losses were competitive. Winning against Charlotte was good for us. Tarpon Springs, Charlotte and us are all evenly matched. We beat both during the regular season, but they were close matches.”
When I checked in on the team last season, the story of the Pirates was the team’s ability to change its perception of beach volleyball from an activity to keep in shape and have fun, to something to take just as seriously as the indoor season. This year, McElhiney said, that level of buy-in was there from the jump. The program does not practice every day because of the club volleyball season. McElhiney said it instead meets two to three times a week, depending on the girls’ schedules, to avoid becoming “a daily grind.”
Less practice time does not mean worse practices, however. McElhiney said he has been thrilled with the team’s focus level all season, allowing it to make every moment together count.
“There have been no diminishing returns,” he said.
It has allowed the team to cultivate depth, which was tested in the regional finals. The Pirates’ top pairing, Camrie Henderson and Sara Hall, has gone 8-2 on the year, but lost against Charlotte, meaning others had to capitalize on their moment, and they did.
McElhiney said the team has focused on bettering its contact. If a set pass is not perfect, do not go for a show-stopping kill, he tells the Pirates, in case it goes astray. Keep the ball in play and live to fight another point.
If the Pirates want to improve on their third-place finish at last year’s state tournament, these are the things they need to continue doing. Thankfully for them, they know it.
“We need to work off of each other and not get down on ourselves,” Henderson said. “We must rely on partners to lift us up, talk to each other a lot more and get together more.”
Hall agreed. Junior Ireland Coker said the team needs to keep it simple and focus on the basics. When the basics have gotten a team this far, it is hard to argue with that philosophy.
What does their coach think? McElhiney said his team will be ready “to attack (the tournament) and go for a win.”
I would expect nothing less than a program named after Pirates.
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