By Kyle LoJacono
The 2011 Pasco-Hernando Community College (PHCC) volleyball team went 31-11, won a regional title and was one of 16 teams to qualify for the national tournament.
The season would rank among the best for most programs, but the Conquistadors were out for more. They wanted to win consecutive National Junior College Athletics Association (NJCAA) Division II championships but lost their first two matches at the tournament.
“After we went to nationals and lost, terribly, I feel like that was a big hit to all of us,” said 5-foot-10 sophomore outside hitter Victoria Ashley, the team captain. “We were expecting, yeah national champs Round 2. We were all so excited, but we did not show up when we went to nationals. That’s something that we need to be aware of and train harder this year.”
A difficulty in the quest to repeat was losing nine-year PHCC coach Kim Whitney for a month during the season because of the birth of her child.
“It was a tough year to coach with having the baby and being out,” Whitney said. “Thankfully I had the two assistants I had (Jason Kucera and Staci Elias). It would have been really hard not having them on board. They did a great job taking over that time I was out. … The girls took on a lot of the leadership role to push themselves enough to get back to regionals and win regionals again and get back to nationals.”
Whitney’s absence became apparent when the Conquistadors reached nationals.
“At regionals, they were good, decent teams, but they were nothing like at nationals,” Ashley said. “I think we were all taken aback a little bit.”
Whitney added, “I think it was hard for them because we weren’t as prepared as I’d hoped they’d be. We had a lot of new girls, like we do every year. It was hard to get them to understand what the level of play was going to be. We lost both of our matches, but finishing in the top 16 is really good considering what we went through. I think it was a successful season.”
Whitney has the team going to the Owens Express Classic Tournament in Ohio, which draws most of the top national programs.
“They’re going to get an early look at the type of team we need to be training to beat,” Whitney said. “That was something I really took into learning from last year. I want the 10 new girls to get prepared to experience that level and understand what we’re working toward.”
Ashley added that having Whitney the entire season is a huge addition.
“It’s going to help us 100 percent,” said Ashley, who led the squad with 417 kills and 50 aces last year. “Even when she returned last year we kind of struggled and lost the first couple of matches, plus the intensity at practice was completely different.”
The squad’s leader is back fulltime, but Whitney still has the challenge of incorporating many new faces to the two-year program. She said it’s difficult to have such turnover with the squad, but added it does keep a constant stream of young players fighting to leave their own mark.
“From the start last year we wanted to win and to go to nationals,” said 5-foot-9 sophomore setter Michelle Wanek. “I don’t think it was pressure because I wasn’t on that team that won. Me and the other sophomores are just trying to make our own history, so I wouldn’t call it pressure. It’s more like wanting to do the same thing and have our own banner.”
Whitney said every season is the same to her regardless of what’s been accomplished.
“Yeah, we won a national championship the year before; I know that, but at the same time we’re focusing on this group,” Whitney said. “We start over every year. In the back of our minds we know what we want to do. It’s my job to get them focused on now, each practice and then each match.”
The Conquistadors start the regular season at home Aug. 24 in a tri-match against St. Petersburg College and Lake Sumter Community College at noon and 2 p.m., respectively.
PHCC volleyball roster
No. Player Year Position
1 Sara Wright So. L
2 Victoria Ashley* So. OH
3 Natascha Stafford So. OH
4 Jessica Amador Fr. L
5 Sofia Gruchalla-Wesierski Fr. OH
6 Lea Burbridge Fr. DS/OH
7 Cierra McQueen Fr. OH
8 Michelle Bulnes Fr. MH
9 Jessi Shapiro Fr. S
10 Michelle Wanek So. S
12 Taylor Crosse Fr. DS/OH
13 Savannah Stona So. MH
14 Altonia Taylor Fr. MH
15 Johanna Ray Fr. MH