They all wrote the same thing.
Before the season started, the Wesley Chapel High volleyball players had a meeting with their coach where they were asked their goals for the 2022 season. At the meeting, each player went to the whiteboard, took a dry erase marker and passionately wrote the same thing.
Coming off the Wildcats’ best season in program history, in which the team nearly reached said state tournament, the players were anxious from Day One to get back on the court and wildly chase down that collective goal.
“When we met with coach, we all wrote on the board either states or state tournament,” said senior middle hitter Chloe Danielson, who leads the team with 202 kills. “That taste of getting so close, we want it again and we want to achieve our goal of getting to states.”
The Wildcats (20-5) were so close last season, falling just a match short of the state tournament in the final round of the regional tournament: a 3-1 loss to Ocala Vanguard. It was easily the best season in program history, but it left a resonating feeling the players have been chasing for a year now.
“We did all write it down on that board because no matter what, we wanted to make it further than last season,” junior outside hitter Grace Korta said. “We’re all super eager to even just get to states — it’s been the goal from Day One.”
“Of course everyone starts writing down states,” sixth-year coach Brittany Collison added. “I had to stop them and take the marker away, because look, we have to win districts first, then we have to win regionals, where it gets much harder from there.”
Wesley Chapel is off to a good start, having secured its second-straight district title with a 3-0 win over nearby rival Cypress Creek (16-7) on Oct. 20 at Fivay High. The Class 5A-District 6 title secures the Wildcats home-court advantage, which is always beneficial; however, the team has been dominant all season.
Danielson, the 6-foot reigning Pasco County Volleyball Player of the Year, may not have as impressive stats as 2021 when she had a team-record 375 kills, but she’s had help.
Korta and fellow junior Lizzy Ekechi are third (154) and second (160), respectively, on the team in kills, while senior Jenna Ly has a team-high 46 aces. Adding to the fray has been Pasco High transfer Emma Letourneau, a 5-foot-11 junior who led the Pirates with 198 kills, only to turn around and be fourth best on the Wildcats (133).
This has all led to an incredible stat: the Wildcats were undefeated in regular season matches, with their five losses all coming in tournaments.
“I think we’ve had big expectations for this season because of how we did last year and (because we returned eight of the 12 players) from last season,” Collison said. “Getting (Letourneau) from Pasco gave us a lot of versatility on the team.
“But (the tournament losses) were a big wake-up call,” she added. “They understood that we’re good, but we can be better — we’re not perfect and always have stuff to work on.”
“I was very confident coming into the season knowing who was back and who came to the team,” Korta said, “and I’m super excited to see how far we can go.”
Danielson agreed, adding the returners stayed cohesive the whole offseason.
“We were able to gel right away — get on our A game right away,” Danielson said. “We all know each other, so we were ready to go right from the start.”
Now, it’s the start of a postseason run that the players are hoping ends at the place they all wrote down.
“This year,” Danielson said, “we all had the same mindset because we all went through it together, we all went through getting so close and not getting our goal, which was to go to states.
“The talent is all there, but to finish it off, we just have to stay focused as a team and keep up the team camaraderie. If we can, I think we can get to where we want to be.”
No. 8 Steinbrenner (18-8) at No. 1 Venice (17-4)
No. 7 Fort Myers (10-8) at No. 2 Land O’ Lakes (21-7)
No. 6 Sunlake (13-9) at No. 3 Bloomingdale (14-4)
No. 5 Springstead (22-4) at No. 4 Mitchell (18-5)
No. 8 Wharton (15-9) at No. 1 Punta Gorda Charlotte (17-1)
No. 8 Fivay (12-14) at No. 1 Wesley Chapel (20-5)
No. 3 Cypress Creek (16-7) at No. 6 Lake Wales (14-4)
No. 8 Freedom (10-4) at No. 1 Naples Barron Collier (15-5)
No. 6 Anclote (12-15) at No. 6 Lemon Bay (11-9)
No. 2 Tampa Prep (15-7) at No. 7 Carrollwood Day (20-6)
Host: Polk County Public Schools
When: Nov. 11-12
Where: Polk State College – Winter Haven Health Center, 999 Ave H N.E., Winter Haven
Info: Visit FHSAA.com/sports/gvb.
Published October 26, 2022