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In her first full season as the head coach of Marco Island Academy volleyball team, Alyssa Stolinas has taken a program that was winless a year ago and made it competitive.

The fact she’s not all that much older than her players makes what she’s done with the team even more impressive, as Stolinas just turned 21 this summer and graduated from Marco Island Academy three years ago.

“At first, I think some of the parents were concerned because I was so young,” she said. “So I think winning over the parents was the hardest part. From the very beginning, I went in there strong and the girls respected me as their coach. They knew I wasn’t there to be a friend, I’m here to be their coach.”

The girls have certainly responded, and Stolinas has made believers out of those skeptical parents as well.

And why not? The Manta Rays have gone 7-10 and have a legitimate chance at a conference championship – quite the turnaround from a squad that didn’t win a match last year.

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“Building that confidence was so important,” she said. “Back when I played and we’d lose matches, I always thought about what I could do to become a better volleyball player and I’ve tried to do the same as a coach. I think at MIA, the girls have gotten used to thinking they weren’t good enough to compete. Getting them to believe in themselves is so important, and once they started winning a few matches, they gained more confidence.”

The Manta Rays have especially come on late in the season, winning four of five before a loss Monday to area power First Baptist Academy.

Marco Island Academy first-year athletic director Ryan Marie Roberts has come away impressed with the job Stolinas has done all year.

“She’s young but she cracks the whip and holds them accountable,” Roberts said. “I think a problem some young coaches run into is they try too hard to be friends with the girls instead of holding them accountable and being their coach. It’s not about always being friendly or being liked, it’s about constantly striving to make the girls better on and off the court, and that’s what she’s done here.”

Stolinas took over the program late last year when the previous coach quit late in the season. She coached the last four matches and admitted it was a bit weird at first.

“Last year, I was coaching girls I had actually played with,” she said. “The girls that were seniors last year were freshmen when I played so that was a bit difficult. This year, it’s been a lot easier because the girls on the team only know me as a coach.”

The Manta Rays don’t have many players who compete at the club level, so instilling the proper fundamentals was the most important goal of the early-season practices.

“We started off kind of slowly, because I had to teach the fundamentals,” she said. “But we’ve picked things up as the season has gone along and the practices have become faster and more competitive.”

Stolinas says she thinks this year’s success is just the tip of the iceberg, as Marco Island Academy’s roster is extremely young. The Manta Rays have just one senior to go along with five freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors.

“I’m hoping some of our girls begin to play club volleyball and gain even more experience,” she said. “We feel we’re going to be a pretty strong team in the next couple of years.”

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