The volleyball seasons kicked off for the three Wesley Chapel-area high schools, and the theme this year for all of the teams might just be big shoes.
As in, who’s going to fill them?
Cypress Creek has to replace 10 seniors, Wiregrass Ranch lost its best player, Haley Strawser, for the season to an injury during club season in July, and Wesley Chapel will be looking to replace, if that’s even possible, the county’s best player in Chloe Danielson, who graduated.
Here’s a look at how each team is hoping to do in 2023.
Last year: 17-8, 3-1 in Class 5A-5
Outlook: The Coyotes lost to rival Wesley Chapel in the Class 5A-5 district final, but managed a victory over Lake Wales in the regional quarterfinals before falling to Merritt Island in the semis. Staying at that level, which includes two straight 17-win seasons, will require a lot of new faces to shine.
Junior setter Camryn Paradise, who had 254 assists last season, is one of the returning players, and her favorite target at the net is likely to be outside hitter Addison Fast, who second-year coach Angel Ramirez lauds for her energy, calling it “contagious.” Fast is the top returning player when it comes to kills, with 55 last year.
“She will be a key factor for our program this season,” he added.
Fast won’t be alone at the net, as the Coyotes have a pair of 6-footers up front in senior outside hitter Katya La Costa and junior middle hitter Corrina Howell, and Ramirez also expects a breakout season from outside hitter Hanna Hershey.
Another newcomer, freshman setter Ava Hofferberth, has a lot of potential and gives the Coyotes some depth at a key position.
Melanie Rodriguez, who played a small role for Cypress Creek last year by seeing action in 16 sets, is returning but her role will be bigger as she moves into a middle blocking and hitting role.
Despite the graduation losses, Ramirez is hoping for a repeat of last year.
“We are excited and have great expectations for this season,” he said. “The girls are ready to compete and have fun. Our goal is to finish with a winning season, be in the district final and make a great impact in regionals.”
Last year: 12-10, 1-1 in Class 6A-10
Outlook: The Bulls, who were swept by Wharton in the district semifinals, seemed primed for a big season in 2023, but losing Strawser is a stinger. She’ll be around to help mom Amy with coaching, but replacing her team-leading totals in kills (162), aces (69), digs (308) and assists (318) will be no easy task.
The Bulls, however, do return three other seniors that will play key roles.
Ayanna Klaiber Norris, a senior middle blocker who was second behind Strawser with 121 kills and led the team with 60 blocks last season, returns, as does senior libero Mari Monserrate, who had 134 digs in 2023.
Senior Stephanie Daly, a dual sport athlete and softball standout, “brings a level of intensity and competitiveness to our team,” said head coach Amy Strawser. She led the Bulls with seven kills in their season-opening victory.
Junior hitter Amera Gardner is back after a 50-kill season, and junior Ella Terzino is a defensive specialist moving up from junior varsity.
Setter Ava Spearin played as a freshman, but with Strawser out is being counted on to fill the duties of running the up-tempo offense. She is athletic and comes off a good offseason. She’ll keep a close eye on fellow sophomore Kamryn Hill, a middle blocker who was third with 92 kills as a freshman, who will have a bigger role this season.
“She has a good eye for the court in front of her,” Amy Strawser said, “and a keen ability to find the open holes.”
A number of newcomers like sophomore defensive specialist Lyrika Valentine-Renteria (who led the team with four assists and 11 digs in the season opener), jayvee call-up and outside hitter Carmen Saleh, and freshman hitter Maria Ustymenko, an out-of-state transfer, will contribute as well.
Another freshman, defensive specialist Luiza Valladares, has already earned a starting position for the Bulls.
“I am excited to see this young group of girls start to really gel and develop a strong future together,” Amy Strawser said. “The team is very young but they are a group of athletes who are committed to their team above themselves. That is refreshing and I think that is what will propel them in the future.”
Last year: 23-6, 4-0 in Class 5A-5
Outlook: The Wildcats are in the midst of the program’s greatest run, advancing within one game of the state championship game last season, and posting a 73-28 record since the arrival of head coach Brittany Collison.
However, there is some bad news — outside hitter Chloe Danielson took her talents to Catawba (N.C.) College after leading the team in kills the past two seasons and finishing her career with a school-record 1,041.
However, there is some good news — she was one of only two seniors on the roster.
The Wildcats still have plenty of talent and will likely remain the best team in Wesley Chapel. They picked up right where they left off with a season opening 25-13, 25-16, 25-9 win last week over Pasco.
Libero Brooke Ashkenase led the Wildcats in digs last year with 347, just 20 less than the school record she set the previous season, and returns for another year. Second-team All-Conference senior hitters Elizabeth Ekechi (201 kills, second on the team) and Annabelle Grace Korta (191 kills) are back as well. Emma LeTourneau, who had 171 kills after transferring from Pasco, returned to her old high school for this season.
While the team also graduated All-Conference setter Jenna Ly, returning junior Emily Teets had 301 assists in 2023 and is capable enough to run the offense.