Six starters graduated. No player who can play all six rotations returned. And still, the Florence girls volleyball team is having its best season yet.
As of Thursday, Florence has compiled a 31-9-4 record and is second overall in the Division III power rankings and seventh in the azcentral sports rankings.
Florence coach Casey Simon points to his team’s athleticism and maturity that was gained while playing in the La Jolla Beach Cities Invitational, a prominent national tournament in La Jolla, Calif.
“We still have our moments where we look like a young team,” Simon said. “But we have those moments, too, where we really put things together. We really have some maturity. And the kids are stepping up and working hard at practice. We’ve had a great season.”
Florence has gone 7-1 since returning from the California tournament, in which the team had to play its best in every match in order to compete.
“California was good for us; we had a good test, and I feel that athletically we have the kids that could keep up and get a good experience in that setting,” Simon said. “Of course, maturity was what we tried to gain out of it. And I think we did. We learned how to win matches that we should and eliminate those immature moments and just let our athleticism play the game for us.”
Much of the offensive power and athleticism has come from 5-foot-10 freshman outside hitter Kenzie DeVries, who leads the team and the state with 409 kills. Freshman middle blocker Alexis Villalobos has also been a key starter.
But Simon said it’s been the seniors like hitter Analicia Flores (second on the team in kills with 245) and setter Angelica Gutierrez that have used their experience in big matches to help the team perform in high-pressure situations.
For Florence to achieve its goal to advance far into the state tournament, which begins on Nov. 2, it will need to rely on that kind of experience.
“Our biggest thing is being able to switch into fight mode,” Simon said. “We when we get backed into a corner, we have to come out swinging and we have to make teams beat us. We have to finish matches. We have to jump out early and establish momentum. That’s the biggest thing in most sports and especially in girls volleyball. It’s momentum and emotion.
“We have all the physical elements and technical and skill elements that we need to be a great team. We just have to put the pieces together and turn on our emotion at the beginning and maintain it throughout the match. And if we can do that, we’re going to be hard to beat.”