By Marcia Stone
After six years of having a summer party, long-time Land O’ Lakes resident Gary “Cuz” Mincin learned he had prostate cancer and decided to try to raise funds for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.
The first fundraiser brought in $460. The next year, the Krewe of Blackbeard’s Revenge joined in and matched Mincin’s $900, for a total of $1,800.
Mincin and the Krewe worked tirelessly to put together this year’s event, and $3,600 was raised.
Guests brought a favorite dish to add to the endless and fabulous feast. Entertainment by local groups included Allen-Griffin, Dead Man’s Rodeo and Smoke N Run. Local establishments including Wolf’s Den, Village Inn, Westshore Pizza, Tire Kingdom, Uptown Pizza, Pizza Villa, Benedetto’s, Texas Roadhouse and several others donated raffle prizes.
The grand prizes included four guitars, including several autographed by Kid Rock, Tom Petty, Jimmy Page and the band Seven Dust. Land O’ Lakes resident Steve Wallace won the Kid Rock guitar.
A heated swimming pool and a fireworks show added to the event.
Krewe members Jean “Eliza Dagger” White and Cheryl Stewart worked the audience raising the donations even higher.
Mincin said he is overwhelmed at how large his private event has become, and added that many cancer survivors attend. Numerous people give their time and labor, and Mincin said he wishes to thank all of them.
Next year’s goal is $5,000, and Mincin is now contemplating a fall event to help support All Children’s Hospital.
By Jeff Odom
The Freedom High volleyball team has a new motto this season that is aimed at keeping its run of success going and developing younger players.
That fresh adage, according to interim coach Michelle Davis, is “One Team, One Dream.” But to the team, it’s much more than just a slogan on the back of a T-shirt.
“We’re going to incorporate co-practices this season to really work with our girls (to) have a one-team atmosphere between our junior varsity and varsity players,” said Davis, who is filling in at head coach this season for Kerry Short, who is out on maternity leave.
“What (assistant coach Jeff) Saxton and I have noticed with some of the junior varsity from last year was that some of them were not ready to move to the varsity level, because they did not have the talent and the skills to get there. But the best way to build a solid program is to make sure we have a strong junior varsity team, so we’re focused on that to have a feeder program, which is going to be very important moving forward.”
The Patriots are coming off of three straight winning seasons, which included a runner-up finish in Class 7A-District 9 last year.
However, if Freedom continues its run of success, the squad will have to do it without 2013 graduate Jasmyn Perry (422 kills) and senior outside hitter Ashley Wilson (212 kills, 190 digs), who are no longer with the team.
While the team will feel the impact left by their voids both on and off the court, Davis said, it’s best for her players to treat it like a work environment where people come and go.
“You’ve got to move forward and that’s the sign of a true champion,” she said. “These girls have really picked that up. At the beginning of the season, they acknowledged there was a hole and we weren’t sure with (junior varsity) girls stepping up or incoming freshmen, what we were going to have. And we’ve been very fortunate that everyone’s been healthy and everyone has stayed focused and strong and they are one collective unit that wants success for the program.”
One of the ways her team has worked to fill that hole is through honing their skills and staying in shape through outdoor beach volleyball.
“Running in the sand, playing in the sand and playing in the heat has made their conditioning level already really high coming into this year,” Davis said. “And there’s no hiding a girl like you can indoors if you have a girl who’s taller and can be put onto the back row and you can sub a girl out, there’s none of that happening in beach. So, it’s made the girls have to work a little bit harder to become more well-rounded.”
One of the teams that Freedom is trying to learn from is none other than cross-town rival Steinbrenner, which has won four district championships in as many years.
Davis was originally hired as the Warriors’ junior varsity coach, but opted to come to Freedom when a spot opened because it was closer to her New Tampa home. After seeing how strong Steinbrenner’s junior varsity program was, the idea of meshing practices became a no-brainer and, so far, it has led to many of her players stepping up as leaders. That includes setter Kelly Schaller (154 digs, 80 assists) and defensive specialist Gabbi Jacobs, who had 105 digs and 27 aces last season, according to statistics as entered by coaches to MaxPreps.com.
Jacobs said the early guidance of Davis has helped the program tremendously in just the first few days of organized practice, and added that she feels like the team has a good chance to make even bigger strides this season to possibly steal the district championship.
“We’ve all worked really well together, and we all have really strong players,” Jacobs said. “Even though we’re just now at the beginning, we’re all looking really good together.”
Davis said she’s expecting a lot out of Jacobs, a senior, and believes her speed is going to be great for her back row. However there is one other player that has caught her eye, and that’s Jacobs’ sister, Carlee, a sophomore outside hitter.
“With those girls running the back row, I have a lot of confidence in our defense, and I don’t see our back row letting anything get by,” Davis said.
Still, even with a surplus of young talent and blossoming leaders, Davis said she knows it’s going to be a difficult schedule at times. But that won’t stop her from making any bold predictions.
“This program has the opportunity to be fantastic, because these girls are working so hard,” Davis said. “I honestly don’t think they’re going to be stopped this year. I know that we have Sickles and Steinbrenner and they may see us as an underdog, but I have the utmost confidence in this team. I think we will win the district championship.”
Freedom opens the regular season at home against Hillsborough on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.
By Jeff Odom
As Mindy Kantor walked into the Wiregrass Ranch gymnasium recently, the Bulls’ volleyball coach took a moment to glance at the row of championship banners hanging from the rafters.
Football, baseball, soccer, cross-country and track are just a few that are christened with seasons of titles, glory and remembrance of their respective accomplishments.
Then, there’s volleyball — blank.
“They believe in themselves. They’re determined,” said Kantor, the only coach since the school opened in 2007. “We’ve built this team on respect for everything — the uniform, the school, the coach and yourself, big time. And if you have the confidence to believe all of that, it’s in your court, and it’s what they put out on that court that’s going to go up on that banner.”
It’s that kind of confidence that has the Bulls believing that this can be the year they get over the hump and into the postseason, which they fell one win short of last season after losing to Freedom in the district semifinals.
One of the major factors that could lift them to the title this time around is leadership from the program’s nine returning seniors, many of whom have grown through the program since they were freshmen and sophomores.
“We’ve gone so far and then the ups and downs and the disappointments, but they’ve taken those disappointments and they feed off of it,” Kantor said. “They’ve wanted (to win the title) from all the way back in June, when we started open courts and conditioning. They gave it through the summer, they gave it through camp … you name it, they gave it, and it’s now transpiring into practices. It’s nonstop.”
One of the benefits of bringing back that many seniors, according to Kantor, is the return of what she refers to as the “Big Three” — outside hitter Grace Olsen, setter Teddi Wright and libero Izah Deang.
Olsen, who was one of Pasco County’s leader in kills with 305 and added 252 digs, said it’s a huge advantage to return so many familiar faces, because it means the team’s chemistry will still be on the mark.
“I’ve gotten to know these girls over the past three, four years and even playing with them (during practice), I’ve noticed that we mesh as a team, we play well and no one gets mad at each other,” Olsen said. “Everything is always moving forward. We never take any steps back.”
Deang, who is referred to by her nickname, “The Beast,” led all Bulls with 337 digs and has anchored her squad’s back row as a quick defender. A family atmosphere surrounds the team both on and off the court, she said.
“We’ve all really grown together,” Deang said. “We really want to see us succeed as a team, and it’s a very big advantage because most teams don’t have as much family-wise as we do or have a very close knit group.”
If Wiregrass Ranch is able to win its first Class 7A-District 8 championship this season, the route to it won’t be easy.
Aside from Freedom, the Bulls will also have to defeat newcomer Sickles — winner of three straight district titles — and Steinbrenner, which has won its district each year since the school opened in 2009 and is a perfect 22-0 all-time in district matches, dropping just one set in four years.
Wright, who had a team-high 79 assists last season, said it will take a lot more work to get past those teams, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work from us,” Wright said. “Once we step onto the court, we know it’s time to be serious. Yeah, we can have fun, but we also know when we go, we are all out, and we never give up and we always push each other to the max.”
Added Kantor: “They want that district title, they want that (Sunshine Athletic Conference) title and they can almost taste it. They’re not being cocky about it and they’re not overconfident, but it’s a goal they want and it’s a goal that they really want to reach their senior year.”
Wiregrass Ranch opens its season on the road against Fivay on Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m.
By Jeff Odom
Capturing four district crowns in as many years and coming off the best season in program history, the Steinbrenner High School volleyball team has been nothing short of dominant since the school was opened in 2009.
The Warriors made their first trip to the Class 7A region finals last year before falling to eventual state champion Venice in three straight sets. And while another district championship would be special, the players want more this time around, said second-year coach Laura Stegenga. Like winning a state title.
“I have the athletes; we’ve just got to put the work in,” said Stegenga, who took over the team for Jennifer Graham in May 2012. “The biggest thing I want my players to focus on is not just going for championships, but practice and what happens there. That’s how you achieve those kind of goals, and I think it’s a goal that we can achieve if we work hard.”
That road to states may be a little tougher for Steinbrenner this season because of the addition of one extra game against each district opponent and Sickles entering Class 7A-District 8.
The Gryphons are coming off three straight championship campaigns of their own in which they most recently defeated Strawberry Crest to win Class 6A-District 11 last year.
Adding Sickles into the mix of league opponents will make competition more interesting, Stegenga said, but she insists it’s nothing the team can’t handle.
“I know (my seniors) are really driven, and I know that they’re extremely good leaders,” she said. “It’s really neat to have them a part of it and also setting the tone for the younger ones.”
Any competition that challenges the team will only make them better, Stegenga said, even if it results in a loss.
“It’s OK in my eyes,” she said. “By adding Sickles, I think it’s a positive thing for us, because it’s just more competition.”
Another potential concern the Warriors face this season is replacing the leadership of the team’s three graduated seniors. They include libero Natalia Campos and starting outside hitter Madison Seuzeneau.
Seuzeneau, who now plays at Spring Hill College in Alabama, was second on the team in kills last season with 255, second in aces with 40, and third in blocks with 14, based on stats entered by coaches to MaxPreps.com.
Campos, now at Valdosta State University in Georgia, had a team-high 377 digs to go along with 39 aces and 15 assists.
Filling the void left behind by their departure are senior outside hitter Rachel Matheson (257 kills, 169 digs, 30 aces and 11 blocks), setter Casey McLean (199 assists, 158 digs and 66 aces) and opposite hitter Maddy Powell (seven kills).
The opportunity to step into a leadership position is something the trio relishes, Stegenga said.
“They’ve definitely made their comments about their seniority over things,” she said, with a laugh. “They’re anxious, excited, and every emotion that they’re feeling is probably very positive for our program. They don’t want anything to change, even though we lose players every year. They don’t want what has been happening the past few years to change, so I feel like they’re willing and ready, and they have the desire to go in and take those roles, all three of them.”
Steinbrenner hosts Armwood to open the regular season on Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
By Jeff Odom
He may have never stepped foot on a college gridiron, but former Gaither High School defensive end Ernest Suttles is set to join his third college team since graduating in May.
After he was dismissed from the University of Nebraska following an off-campus incident, Suttles thought he had found a new home in Coral Gables at Miami last week. But, the Hurricanes denied his transfer request, which left the 2012 All-Laker/All-Lutz News Defensive Player of the Year without a team again.
But not for long.
Memphis has accepted Suttles’ transfer request, and he officially joined the Tigers, which compete in the American Athletic Conference.
“He was involved in an unfortunate situation,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper on Aug. 14. “But we got letters of recommendation from an associate athletic director at Nebraska, from his high school principal, his high school football coach, a high school teacher, and we talked to two assistant coaches at Nebraska. They all had nothing but unbelievable things to say about him. They said he was a really good kid who made a mistake and was in a bad situation.”
Suttles joined Memphis for practice on Aug. 11, but will still have to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer rules, according to the Commercial Appeal. He will have four years of eligibility starting in 2014.
Memphis started last season 1-8, but rebounded with three straight wins to finish with an overall record of 4-8.