Lely, Marco Island squads get back to work after Irma layoff

Morgan Broxson connects with the ball during last year's regional semifinal victory over Tarpon Springs. Broxson is one of two returning starters for the Lely volleyball team this season, one that expects to challenge for a seventh district title and sixth straight regional final appearance.

For the high school teams in East Naples and Marco Island, simply returning to practice last week was a needed breath of fresh air.

With so many homes and businesses impacted by Hurricane Irma, getting back to the usual routine restored a sense of normalcy for local athletes.

“That was the longest 2½ weeks I can remember,” Lely volleyball coach Chris Haire said. “We knew once we got back to practice, it would be a little ugly because we hadn’t played in so long, but it was really important just to have the girls reunited and establishing that camaraderie again.”

Haire said the girls got together last Thursday and made 100 meals for Collier County jail deputies, with the remainder of the meals going to local emergency dispatch units.

“It was a great team bonding exercise,” Haire said. “And it was great to give back to the community.”

The Marco Island Academy football team has been doing its part in giving back to those impacted by the storm.

The Manta Rays returned to the field Saturday, losing 42-0 to St. John Neumann. The result of that game seemed almost insignificant to the program and coach Damon Coiro.

“I told the guys before the game, win or lose, this group of guys will always be special to me for what they’ve done for others,” Coiro said. “Before Thursday’s practice, we were in Everglades City, demolishing the inside of one of our player’s homes so they can rebuild it again (after Hurricane Irma), and then we went out to practice. We may have gotten our (butts) kicked tonight, but helping out a teammate is more important than any football game we could ever win.”

Marco Island quarterback Kyler Howard attempts to avoid the tackle during Saturday afternoon's game between Marco Island Academy and St. John Neumann.

Coiro said he’s been impressed by the selfness nature shown by his players, saying the Manta Rays have been out in the community helping others even before the storm hit. He said the football team and other students from Marco Island Academy have been doing something to help people affected by the storm every day, not just in Marco but Naples, Goodland, Everglades City and Chokoloskee.

“We didn’t have to ask our kids to do it, we didn’t have to ask our community to rally around each other,” Coiro said. “Our boys have been taking care of business off the field. And those are championships for us, and championships for them down the road in life.”

Lely cross country coach Mark McGarity said the reopening of Collier County public schools Monday was a welcome sight, even for the students.

“I don’t think I’ve seen better attendance in both the classroom and in practice than what I saw (Monday),” he said. “In all my classes, I think there was maybe one or two absences total. And we had all 43 kids at practice. I think that sense of stability, that sense of getting things back to normal was very important to the kids at our school. Some of them still have problems at home, some are still not sure where they’re going to be living while their houses have been repaired. But I think getting back to a usual routine helps.”

Although the Trojans cross country team resumed practice last week, McGarity pulled his squad out of the North Port Invitational this past weekend.

“Right off the bat, we lost 12 school days and two weeks of training,” he said. “You’re really starting over where you’re trying to get them back on track to where they can run a little bit and not die out there. I didn’t think it made much sense for us to run a race with the kids not being in condition to successfully run it.”

McGarity said the last week has had the feel of preseason with one caveat – the district meet is only a month away.

“There’s really not a whole lot of time to get the kids where they need to be,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of dedication on their parts to get ready, but I have confidence in our kids. I know they’re going to put the work in.”