By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner volleyball team swept Sickles out of the Warriors’ gym Sept. 6, defeating their rival 25-16, 26-24, 25-21.
The season opening win was not only No. 1 for the 2012 season, it was also the first varsity victory of first-year Steinbrenner coach Laura Stegenga.
“They’ve been working really hard; they deserved it,” said Stegenga, who led the junior varsity program at Gaither last year. “They applied everything we did in practice, and that’s how they came out. Their energy is so strong right now, and if they keep playing like that they’ll be fantastic.”
The match also marked a first for Natalia Campos.
The senior made her first start at libero, taking over for three-year starter and 2011 The Laker/Lutz News Volleyball Player of the Year Cary Anne Bame.
“I was freaking out because I’m a senior, and this is my last first game,” Campos said. “It was the first time I put on the Steinbrenner libero jersey for varsity. I was a nervous wreck, but once I got the first couple balls out of the way I was good.”
Campos ended the match with a career-high 35 digs.
Gryphons (1-1) stepped up after quickly dropping the first set. The Warriors (1-0) faced set point at 24-23 but roared back to take the next three points, the final two coming on back-to-back kills by junior outside hitter Rachel Mathison off assists from Brooke Royals.
“I was really happy,” Mathison said. “I finally got good contact on the ball, and it went down. We lost our momentum, but we picked it back up in the third set.”
Mathison ended with seven digs, four aces and a team-high 10 kills, including the match winner.
“We showed we’re the real SHS,” Campos said. “It was really cool because I made the pass to Casey (McLean) who set it to Rachel, so it’s like wow, I got to contribute to this win.”
Steinbrenner’s normally potent offense was a bit slow in the contest, with the Warriors recording only 25 kills.
“Serve receive has been our focus since tryouts, so I’m going to have high expectation of that,” Stegenga said. “After seeing tonight’s game I think I’m going more into the offensive end because they were making a lot more offensive errors, but really holding it defensively.
“Offensively it was slower, but the hitters are so strong that they’re going to be able to pull it out,” Stegenga continued. “They’re also very smart hitters. Every time I was talking to them I said, ‘Don’t try to overpower them because they have a strong block. Be smarter than the block.’ They started doing tips, and those changeups changed the pace of the game.”
Campos said being able to win without their best offensive performance shows Stegenga’s coaching is sinking in.
“Steinbrenner is known for having powerhouse hitters, so it’s nice to know that, not just me, but everyone can contribute to the defense,” Campos said. “We’ve been working a lot on serve receive, so we’re really using that as one of our weapons.”
Steinbrenner played at Class 7A-District 9 rival Wiregrass Ranch Sept. 10, but results were not available by press time. The Warriors host Leto Sept. 12 and Robinson Sept. 13, respectively. Both matches start at 7:30 p.m.