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The Marco Island Charter Middle School girls’ volleyball team are conference champions – again.

The squad played their final match Monday night, but they had already sewed up their second consecutive Southwest Florida Athletic Conference championship, with an overall record of 14-2 in their 16-game season. In the MICMS gym, they took on Saint Michael Lutheran School from Fort Myers, one of only two teams who had defeated them in their first meeting.

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In the first game of the best-of-three matchup on Monday, St. Michael beat MICMS by a wide margin, but then the Eagles came roaring (screeching?) back, edging the Saints in game two and closing out their season with a convincing win in game three. So, both teams that won their first match with Charter Middle – the other was Saint Francis Xavier, also from Fort Myers – lost in their second time meeting the Eagles.

Eagles head coach Sara Neustadt, a sixth grade science teacher, huddled with her squad before each game. After losing the first game, asked what advice she gave them, she responded with one word: “talk.”

Communication and camaraderie were key to the team’s success, said Neustadt.

“Our strong suit is probably team bonding. They’ve all become a little family of their own – no cliques, no drama,” she said. “Last year, we won our first conference win in school history. To win our second the next year is a pretty big accomplishment for my girls.”

MICMS activities/athletic director Margo Heidenreich added “great coaching” as well as team dedication as reasons for the program’s strong showing, crediting Neustadt, a former high school volleyball player, with leading the team to success.

There is no post-season play in the middle school volleyball program, said Neustadt, so Monday night’s match was the end, although the junior varsity squad she also coaches still has three weeks of competition, and she hosts practice sessions during the winter and spring to keep up the players’ skills and motivation.

Among the crowd in the bleachers watching the MICMS game were members of the Marco Island Academy high school girls’ volleyball team. Immediately after the MICMS game, the Manta Rays played, and won, their own conference championship, defeating Mason Classical Academy 3-0. With 23 matches in their season, MIA compiled a 20-3 record, dominating the Paradise Coast Athletic Conference. Like their middle school counterparts, it was a repeat performance.

“This is the second year in a row we won our conference,” said MIA athletic director Ryan Marie Roberts. Our coach, Alyssa Stolinas, has really grown the program. Now we go into district play.”

Marco Island Academy earned a bye for the first round, and will play their next match on October 15, with the prospect of advancing to regional play if they keep winning. Both MICMS and MIA play in conference and non-conference games and try to schedule matches with bigger schools to give their teams the challenge of playing tougher opponents.

While MICMS concentrates heavily on academics, principal George Abounader said he was very proud of the accomplishments of the volleyball team.

“Not only did they represent us in a great way, but they also won the championship.”

Eagles team members include Sloan Wheeler, Mia Winnik, Piper Noyes, Summer LaButte, Jenna Ragan, Mia Saad, Alaka Vosburgh, Tina Stoev, Laney Dunstan, Ava Lewis, Ella Moss, Lyndsay Lowdermilk, Helen Totten, and Karina Corrado. George Hayden provided coaching assistance.

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