By Kyle LoJacono
Freedom volleyball has undergone a large transformation the last few years.
In 2010, the Patriots were looking for their first playoff berth. Now, the squad is seeking its third in as many years.
The postseason has been commonplace the last two seasons, but something is still missing — a banner hanging in Freedom’s gym following a district championship.
“It’s been exciting, and for the girls it’s almost expected to be in the playoffs, but still there is not a district banner in our gym” said fifth-year Patriots coach Kerry Short. “We would really like to have one. We’re tired of coming in second.”
Senior Ashle Thompson has been with the program for four years and said getting a district title would be the “icing on the cake” of her senior year.
“We always expect to win our district, and we’re really hoping this is the season because we haven’t achieved it yet,” said the 5-foot-8 middle hitter. “We’re always almost there.”
Junior setter Kelly Schaller added, “It would be awesome just to know that I contributed to our first banner. It would be up there until this school closes, which probably won’t be for a long time.”
It would mean as much to 5-foot-9 outside hitter Jasmyn Perry. The senior transferred from Tampa Bay Tech in 2011, the first time she’s been on a playoff team.
“It would mean so much to me just to see that our team, Freedom High School 2012, on a banner,” Perry said. “Oh my gosh, it would be awesome.”
The Patriots know what they want, but understand wearing their first district crown won’t come easy in Class 7A-District 9.
The alignment includes Steinbrenner, which has won three district titles since the school opened in 2009, including 7A-9 last year when the squad went 24-5. The Warriors won both meetings with Freedom last year, but the Patriots did take a set in the regular season.
Winning a set from Steinbrenner may not seem like a large accomplishment, but it is the only time the Warriors have dropped one to a district opponent ever.
Freedom will also have to get by Wiregrass Ranch (12-13), Gaither (7-15) and Chamberlain (5-14) to make it out of the district.
“The teams in our district are tough,” Short said. “I feel almost every year with our schedule we’ve gotten tougher and tougher opponents. That’s a good thing because to get better you have to play tougher competition to get you to that next level.”
The Patriots also face Wharton (19-4) and Plant (18-9) in nondistrict play.
“We have a really difficult schedule and we have a chance to win at a really high level,” Perry said. “We play Steinbrenner, Wharton, Plant. I’m not saying we’re definitely going to beat those teams, but we’re going to give them a run for their money, and that’s really exciting to be able to say.”
As the excitement around the program has risen, so has the interest in volleyball at the school. Short inherited a team that went 6-10 in 2007. She had about 20 kids try out that year.
Since then, Freedom has never finished below .500 and the win total has increased every season, up to 19-9 last year. The amount of girls interested in playing has also jumped.
“This was the biggest tryout I’ve had,” Short said. “We had 50 girls, so within that conditioning they kept showing up. They were excited about the volleyball season.”
The Patriots only graduated rightside hitter Natalee Judson (143 digs, 32 kills) but lose outside hitter Hannah Kaczmarek, who set a single-season program record with 364 kills last year.
Kaczmarek, a first-team All-Western Conference and All-Laker/All-Lutz News selection, moved into Wharton’s district where she attended as a freshman, but the Patriots get reinforcement from a familiar face.
Junior Ashley Wilson returns after focusing on softball last year. The 5-foot-9 outside hitter led the squad in 2010 with 295 kills while adding 205 digs and 25 aces.
“I got my softball scholarship, I’m going to Elon University, so I decided since that’s all done, I can come back,” Wilson said. “Last year, I wanted to focus on softball, but I still love volleyball. I missed it so much more than I expected.”
Schaller, who had 799 assists, 149 digs, 74 kills and 55 aces last year, said having Wilson back adds to a loaded frontline.
“Our hitting, especially outside, our outsides are some of the best in the district,” said the 5-foot-9.5 Schaller. “It really shows, and we get most of our points from the outside. We need our back row too. Our outsides would do nothing without our back row.”
Perry recorded 313 kills, 196 digs, 45 aces and 30 blocks last season, while Thompson added 89 digs, 62 kills, 37 aces and 22 blocks to the frontline.
“I think we can be really dominant this year,” Wilson said. “With all the talent we have on the frontline and defense we should be able to play with anyone.”
Freedom opens the regular season at home against Bloomingdale on Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m. The 7A-9 tournament is at Gaither Oct. 22 to 25, with the final on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m.
—Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches
Player Pos. Yr. Ht.
Kayla Ireland RS Jr.
Gabbi Jacobs DS/OH Jr.
Kaitlyn Miller RH Jr.
Delaney Myers DS/OH Sr.
Jasmyn Perry OH Sr.
Kelly Schaller S Jr.
Hannah Skendziel MH So.
Delaney Smith DS Jr.
Megan Snow RH/OH Jr.
Ashle Thompson MH Sr.
Ashley Wilson OH Jr.