With their victory over Wiregrass Ranch on Oct. 25, the Steinbrenner Warriors can now say they’re Class 7A-District 8 volleyball champions.
Of course, they were able to say the same thing last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. In fact, in the five years the school has had a volleyball program, they’re a perfect 5-for-5 in district titles.
But while the district results were always the same, so were the regional ones: The previous four years found the team 0-4 when it came to an elusive regional title.
Until this year.
The Warriors finally claimed their first Class 7A regional crown by besting the Lake Nona Lions on Nov. 9 in three sets. That win took them to the state semifinals for the first time in school history, where they fell to Gulf Coast in a tough five-set match.
But while their season ended with a loss, the team is proud of their accomplishments in claiming a regional title and advancing farther than any previous Steinbrenner volleyball team before them.
“They were the first group in school history to attain that goal, and I think that was most exciting for them,” said Head Coach Laura Stegenga, who has coached for several years, but just completed her second season with Steinbrenner. This squad stood out, she said, because the school’s team historically is a young team. Yet they benefited from having a number of juniors and seniors to provide experience this season.
And with 10 juniors helping lead the way, Stegenga can also look forward to coaching a large portion of this year’s successful team again in 2014.
One of those players, Avery Bradshaw, admits the state semifinal was a tough loss after coming so far this season. But the junior, now in her third year with the Steinbrenner volleyball team, soon recognized the importance of the school’s first regional title.
“We wanted to be the first year (the 2013 squad) on the banner in the gym that said we are regional champions,” Bradshaw said. “That was a great accomplishment for us.”
She was also consoled by the outpouring of support the team received from the school. Originally unsure of the reaction she’d receive and hoping nobody was disappointed in the team following the loss, Bradshaw said she was grateful to see students and faculty — including some she didn’t know were even following the team’s success — offering congratulations and letting her know how proud they were of her and her team.
“That made everything a lot better,” she said.
While the team can look back on 2013 as the best volleyball season in school history, Stegenga knows that there will be new challenges next season. Each year the team wants to live up to the school’s history of claiming the district title, but she admits that winning a regional title and coming so close to the state finals has raised the bar when it comes to team expectations.
The matchups, Stegenga said, will determine how challenging their draw is in the postseason, but she believes that this year’s experience and the desire to improve will provide a lot of motivation for her returning players.
However, the moment they claimed the first regional title in school history is one that will stick with her.
“I remember that game point of the third set against Lake Nona (in the regional final) and the girls’ celebration and the tears. It was very powerful,” Stegenga said. “That’s really the reason why I coach, is to have moments like that with the players.”