There’s an element of bittersweet to the Chiles volleyball team, which lost in five sets in its regional final to eventual Class 7A state champion Oviedo.
But that doesn’t take away from the success obtained by the Timberwolves, who finished their season 24-5 and won the school’s first district title since 2005.
Chiles is adding to its budding reputation, as junior outside hitter Kailey Harvell was named All-Big Bend Player of the Year and coach Kaitlin DiLuzio was named Coach of the Year.
“We made a lot of advances this season,” DiLuzio said. “We didn’t end up the way we had planned, but we set the bar high for next year.”
When DiLuzio took over the program five years ago, her upperclassmen had been through two coaches already. Getting players to believe in her expectations was the first challenge in building consistent success.
Now, she’s seeing each senior class trying to one-up the next, and this latest group took their work ethic to a new level. While there’s one huge goal still to reach, DiLuzio believes the foundation is now set for sustainable success.
“From the players that have come through and are playing in college or just finishing up, to the ones that are up-and-coming, I know we’ve put ourselves on the map in the state, not just our area anymore,” DiLuzio said.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do these past couple years is play teams from all over the state, traveling to Tampa and having players participate in the (FACA) All-Star Game, those types of things so we’re no longer just a north Florida team, we’re a state-contending team.”
One of those players who will be playing at the next level is Harvell, who committed to Georgia Tech prior to what turned into being a phenomenal junior season.
She amassed 389 kills and 208 digs on her way to earning All-Big Bend Player of the Year honors.
“I’m honored,” Harvell said. “I think as a team, we did awesome. We tried our hardest the whole entire time. Honestly, this year is the hardest I’ve ever worked, me and my teammates.”
DiLuzio has been preaching offseason work every spring and summer in anticipation for the fall, and Harvell took that to heart with the understanding that she hadn’t accomplished anything yet despite her verbal commitment.
It’s those individual efforts doused in humility that have helped Chiles set a precedent within its program.
“You would think that the pressure is off, that she’s committed, that she’s going to relax a little bit, but with Kailey it’s been the opposite,” DiLuzio said. “You don’t lay off because you’ve committed, you prepare to play Division-I.”
Harvell heads into her offseason knowing she has one more high school season to not only accomplish any other personal goals, but to improve on weaknesses and hone skill sets.
And much like her pre-existing teammates and the new ones that will join her next season, Harvell hopes the payoff is a few more firsts that leave only the sweet taste of victory behind to savor.
“We’ve already talked about it,” Harvell said.
“We want to win so many tournaments. We know what it feels like now to go so far and it’s awesome. This (next) year, we’re going to try even harder because we want to go even farther.”