Despite graduations, Lely volleyball still expects big year

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.

The Lely volleyball team lost seven seniors from a squad that won a district championship and advanced to a regional final.

One might think the 2017 season would be a rebuilding year.

Not so fast, says coach Christina Haire. The Trojans expect to be every bit as good as last year’s squad, and Lely is confident it still has the pieces to capture a seventh consecutive district title and sixth straight trip to a regional championship match.

“It’s definitely a different dynamic,” Haire said of the relatively young squad. “We still have four returning varsity players and the newcomers on our team are very talented. We expect to have a lot of energy, a lot of talent on the floor, and the girls have been working very hard in the offseason. They’ve put in a lot of hours, both in their strength and conditioning and their overall commitment to the team. They’re very dedicated to each other and excited about this team’s potential.”

The Trojans have two returning starters in junior setter Morgan Broxson and senior middle hitter Payge Sutton. Both players have been selected as co-captains, with Broxson serving in that role for a second consecutive season.

Prep Volleyball 2016: Lely rallies to win 6A regional semifinal over Tarpon Springs

“Last year, I was a team captain but I didn’t feel as much as a leader as I do now, because we had seven seniors on the team, girls that had played together for several years,” Broxson said. “This year, Payge and I are totally taking that role on, and we’re really excited to see what this season will bring for us.”

The Trojans are carrying just nine varsity players on the roster, with nearly half those players freshmen and sophomores. The other two returning varsity players are senior Lorry Sullivan and junior outside hitter Lindsey O’Dell.

The rest of the roster is comprised of junior Giana Orlando, sophomore Madisen Hankins, sophomore Isabel Lyon, freshman Colleen Ziegelmaier and freshman Theresa Keegan.

Some coaches would lament the loss of seven seniors, including standouts like Katie Moss, Emmanuelle Mergue and Kayla Pieri, but Haire isn’t one to dwell on the past.

“I try not to focus on the people we lost,” she said. “I’m more focused on the people we have moving forward. We have a lot of versatile players that can play a lot of positions. We’ll have some really disciplined players. We have the same expectations we always have.”

Lely volleyball team looks to take it one step further

Sutton, the coach’s daughter, says no matter who is on the roster, the attitude remains the same.

“Our drive is what makes us successful as a team every year,” Sutton said. “That feeling of wanting to win. We put so much effort and hard work, both in the offseason and during the season, we just have that passion of wanting to win and wanting to do well that carries us each year.”

Broxson doesn’t think the team’s lack of experience will be much of a hurdle, saying she feels just as comfortable with this group of girls as with last year’s veteran squad.

“Since we do have a lot of younger players, there’s more of a connection between each player because we’ve come up playing together,” she said. “Just like last year’s group of seniors had such a connection because they had played with each other for so long. That connection on and off the court is what makes a team successful.”

Lely opens the regular season Tuesday, August 22, at home against Palmetto Ridge.