By Kyle LoJacono
The Bulldogs lost six seniors, including both team captains, from the 2009 team that reached the playoffs, but coach Dan Muir is confident they can make it back to the post season.
“The best part about the young players who moved from (junior varsity) is they went 11-1 last year, so they have a lot of chemistry and work well together,” said Muir, who is entering his third season as Zephyrhills’ coach. “We lost very good players, but we still have a very solid team.”
The three biggest losses from last year’s squad that went 18-6 are team captains Taylor Willis, a middle hitter, and Lindsay Arnold, a setter, along with Lacey Cook, an outside hitter. All three signed athletic scholarships, Willis for volleyball at Flagler College, Arnold for track and field at the University of South Florida and Cook for softball at George Washington University.
“They weren’t just leaders, but also our biggest hitters up front and the most athletic players,” Muir said. “We won’t be as athletic this year, but what we lack in athleticism we’ll more than make up with on court communication. They talk a lot out there and always know where to be.”
One of the call-ups from the junior varsity (JV) squad this year is junior Erica Kinsman. She is not only adjusting to playing varsity volleyball, but also to replacing Arnold as one of the team’s setters.
“I don’t really think about that,” Kinsman said. “I just try and get better so I don’t let my teammates down … We’re very close from playing on JV, but we’ve also been friends with the players on varsity. Lindsay and I were very good friends and I hope I can do as good a job as she did.”
One of the players moving into the void on the front line is middle hitter Kaylee Gaskin, senior team captain.
“I’ve tried to be more of a leader in summer workouts and in preseason practices,” Gaskin said. “Losing so many good players from last year is obviously a hard thing to come back from, but everyone has been at most of the summer workouts and have been working hard going into the season.”
“I think we have a great chance to get back to the playoffs,” Gaskin continued. “Our goal is to go a long way in the playoffs and hopefully get to the final four and win a state championship.”
Gaskin had 85 kills and 56 blocks last season. The only returner with more kills last year is Kaitlyn Blount, who had 93 while adding 11 blocks and 26 aces.
Other players who will play up front are Morgan Beaulieu, Chellsey Barnett, Maya Clark, Maddie Marshellsea and Kristen Deck, who moved to Zephyrhills from Orlando.
“She’s about 6-foot-2 and her height will really help us this year blocking in the middle,” Muir said of Deck. “I wasn’t sure who was going to play that position with so many players graduating, so thank goodness we have her.”
Muir’s daughter, Danielle, will be the Bulldogs other setter. Running the backline will be libero Sierra Bahr, a junior, who had 308 digs and 39 aces in 2009.
“I really like playing libero because the ball always gets hit to me first, that is if everything works out right for us,” Bahr said with a laugh. “If I’m not the first getting the ball then I might have to hit it over and that usually means a free ball for the other team.”
Bahr’s first year on the squad was also the first for Muir as coach. She has seen the team and her own growth as volleyball players under his teaching.
“He’s done a great job as our coach,” Bahr said. “He was a big part in us getting good enough to make the playoffs last year and if we listen to him, we should get back there this year.”
The Bulldogs have gone 2-0 through the first two matches, beating both Central High and Citrus High in three sets. The team had a match Sept. 7 at River Ridge High, but results were not available at press time. Zephyrhills will play against Pasco at home Sept. 9.
“I think it’ll be a very fun team for people to come out and watch,” Muir said. “They have a lot of fun out there and will put on a good show for the community to come out and watch.”
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