Sickles and Gaither having memorable seasons
Gryphons and Cowboys cruising into the Class 5A playoffs
By Kyle LoJacono
NORTHDALE — When Gaither outside hitter Laura Ackart started her senior season she hoped it would be a good one, just maybe not this good.
“A lot of us on the team were on (junior varsity) my sophomore year, so that helps our team click well,” Ackart said. “We’re all friends and know what the other is going to do. I thought we would be a strong team, but maybe not this strong.”
The 2009 version of Class 5A, District 9 has two teams at the top — Sickles and Gaither.
Sickles started off 13-2, 3-1 in the district. Gaither is just one game better in the 5A-9 at 4-0, 10-3 overall. The rivals faced off Oct. 8 in Citrus Park, where the Cowboys were victorious 25-21, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23.
While the Gryphons lost that head-to-head meeting, they did manage to win one of the strangest matches any of them have ever played. It came against Steinbrenner in their first match.
Last year, Sickles and Gaither were in 6A-7, but the opening of Steinbrenner dropped both schools to the 5A level. Sickles lost more students to Steinbrenner, which made the Sept. 3 match between them a little strange. The Gryphons won in five games, including a 17-15 final.
“It was weird to coach against so many former players,” said Rob Brashear, a Gaither graduate who has coached Sickles for 10 years. “I was happy to get the win, but (Steinbrenner) has done very well this year. I guess you could say it is nice to have a legacy here with this team and there with our former players.”
Sickles is led by co-captains and outside hitters Lauren Ramsey, a senior, and sophomore Brenna McTeer.
“Lauren is definitely the floor captain and keeps everyone on track,” Brashear said. “She leads by example. Brenna is the kind of person who wants to be the team leader and is learning the ropes from Lauren on how to be a team captain. She is young, but pretty consistent and helps us do a lot of things out there.”
Through 12 matches, Ramsey contributed a team-high 68 kills with 18 aces, 53 digs and five blocks. McTeer had 10 blocks, 48 digs, 33 aces and 40 kills.
“Coach always thought we would do well this year, but a lot of people thought we wouldn’t because we lost so many players,” said McTeer, a volleyball since the sixth grade. “We have proved that we can still win.”
Senior middle blockers Morgan Gola and Tori Holmes, have been key contributors. While the frontline players tend to get much of the glory, the libero and setters make them look good.
“The passing has really been great and we tried to work on that,” McTeer said. “Brittany (Johnson), Carley (Owens) and Tinsley (Zentmeyer) have really passed the ball to us well. Of course, Lauren has been the biggest reason for our season.”
Johnson is the libero, while Owens and Zentmeyer see time at setter.
Gaither’s standout is co-captain Ackart, who through 12 matches led the team with 101 kills and was third with 23 aces and 34 digs.
Only one Cowboy is an underclassman, junior Erin Domaracki, so the team is loaded with experience. Another senior standout is co-captain and setter Emily Hussin, who had 127 of the team’s 139 assists.
The highlight for the Cowboys came on Oct. 3 when they won the Bayshore Christian Invitational by defeating Naples Seacrest Country Day 25-19, 25-17. The tournament win was the first for Gaither in more than 10 years.
In the championship match middle blocker Chloe New had four blocks, while Ackart put down nine kills.
“It was real special to win the tournament this year, because so many of us are seniors,” Ackart said. “It was fun to play teams we haven’t played before. The other teams were really good and it showed us that we can beat good teams.”
Ackart is not only a talented outside hitter, but she also excels in the classroom with a 6.04 weighted grade point average.
“We’ve had a lot of fun, but we have a lot of leadership and teamwork too,” Ackart said. “It makes me proud that our volleyball program is doing really well.”
The 5A-9 district tournament will be at Gaither and begins Oct. 26.
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