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A year ago, the Marco Island Academy volleyball team didn’t win a match.

Now, they’re league champions.

The Manta Rays took home the Paradise Coast Athletic Conference tournament championship Thursday with an 11-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-11 win over Donahue Academy.

First-year coach Alyssa Stolinas said the victory was a “huge accomplishment” for the upstart program.

“It’s a great confidence booster and something the girls really should be proud of,” she said. “These girls worked so hard every day in practice. They put in the effort to improve and now they’re seeing the results of that hard work.”

The championship match started off in rocky fashion, with the young Manta Rays squad showing a bit of nerves as Donahue dominated the first game. Marco Island rallied to win a hard-fought second game in what was probably the turning point of the match.

“The girls were nervous and it took us awhile to get started,” Stolinas said. “Winning that second game was a big confidence booster. If we lost that one, we probably wouldn’t have pulled it through. But after winning it, the girls got the sense ‘hey, we really can do this’ and started playing with a lot more energy and confidence.”

Marco Island Academy evened its season record at 12-12, an incredible turnaround from a winless season last year. And although the Manta Rays are decided underdogs heading into Monday’s district opener against Evangelical Christian, the season has already been a resounding success.

“I think it shows, especially for the middle schoolers coming up, that MIA can win, not just Lely,” Stolinas said. “It can potentially bring more girls to MIA, more girls to our program.”

Stolinas said her entire team made key contributions to this season’s success, singling out junior Lauren Faremouth and freshman Camryn Rose in particular.

The next step for the program is to become more competitive against the district heavyweights – teams like First Baptist, Seacrest Country Day and Evangelical Christian.

“We lost one of our games 25-1 to First Baptist this year, so we know we need to improve to compete at that level,” she said. “We’ll have a few girls playing club this summer, and hopefully some of our middle schoolers coming up will be playing club as well. We know we still have work to do, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

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