Barron Collier's Olivia D'Agostino, second right, steadies herself after she dove into the Cougars bench while trying to save a point during Tuesday's home match against Community School of Naples. GREGG HARDY/CSI
We didn’t get the volleyball match Tuesday night at Barron Collier High School that we thought we would get just a couple weeks ago.
The host Cougars were little competition for a Community School of Naples Seahawks team that is taking Southwest Florida — and, perhaps, the state — by storm. CSN (which already appears to be a serious state title contender in Class 5A) had little trouble in its 3-0 sweep of Barron (which, on paper, looks like it should be poised to make a run at its third straight Class 7A state semifinal appearance).
Right now, the Cougars are just trying to keep their head above water, as a spate of early season injuries have wreaked havoc on their lineup. Actually, Barron’s 2-3 start to the season is a pretty good mark considering the combined record of the Cougars’ opponents (CSN, Gulf Coast and Port Charlotte) in their three losses is 18-5.
Setter Hope Casella, middle Brooke Beebe and right side Kristin Lawhon — all key players — are missing time. When they return, we should see a vastly improved and more potent Cougars attack.
“I’m not the kind of coach that likes to use injuries as an excuse, but right now it’s affecting us as a team … ,” said first-year Barron Collier coach Yamil Del Valle, who’s brought a couple of freshmen, Isabella Rebimbas and Maiya Baker, up from the JV squad to give his roster some much-needed depth.
“Those three injuries (change) everything,” added Del Valle, who recently turned to versatile senior Emily Trebilcock to help hold down the fort at the setter position until Casella returns.
During Barron Collier’s road sweep of Lely last week, Trebilcock posted a team-high six assists to go along with an ace. In a perfect world, she would be the Cougars’ main option at setter, but that’s asking a lot of a player who has no varsity experience at the position.
Sure enough, things were a lot tougher Tuesday against a supremely confident and free-swinging bunch from CSN. With the Cougars looking out of sync on offense and the Seahawks racing out to a one-set-to-none advantage, Del Valle turned to sophomore Skylar English to run the attack. (You may recall English excelled in her setter/hitter hybrid role during Barron’s run to the state title match last year.)
But with the injuries to Beebe and Lawhon, the Cougars’ options on the attack are far more limited. At one point in the second game, English set the ball behind her … only to discover that there was no one there.
One bit of good news for Barron Collier? Senior hitter Shey Kirwin, who had been playing hurt, appears to be recovered.
“We’re just trying to survive (as best) we can and trying to do our best,” Del Valle said. “It’s hard for all the girls, especially for Skylar — she’s not doing what we were expecting (her to do as the Cougars’ top hitter). But we’re trying. We’re fighting. We don’t stop fighting.”
So what’s the outlook for the Cougars? When the calendar reads October, will we see the team that, at the start of the season, had hopes of returning to states?
“We’re going to come back strong with everyone once they’re healed,” said junior libero Olivia D’Agostino, who, while trying to keep a point alive Tuesday, avoided becoming another Cougar casualty when she found herself on the wrong end of a battle with a chair on the BC bench. “(Hope’s return) will help back with the setter (position), and then we can use Skylar back again as all-around.”
In a couple weeks, Community School’s volleyball team will make good on a trip to Italy that was originally planned for last year but was spoiled by Hurricane Irma.
It’ll be a well-earned break for the Seahawks … well, sort of. Call it a working vacation.
Coach Alicia MacIntyre said CSN will play a couple of matches in Rome and Naples (you know, the “other” Naples, as the world knows it).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more challenging schedule than the one the Seahawks have played thus far. And it’s totally by design.
“We changed our whole schedule, and we did that on purpose,” MacIntyre said. “Every year since I’ve been here, we’ve been (something like) 15-6. We have a great record, but then we get to district and we can’t figure out how to finish. So I talked to my AD this year, and I said I want a hard schedule, and I don’t care if we come out of it .500 as long as we prepare for postseason.”
After they upped their record to 5-1 following Thursday’s emotional home sweep of Bishop Verot, the Seahawks competed in the ultra-competitive Cardinal Mooney tournament this past weekend.
The wear and tear of playing 22 sets in six days was evident, as the Seahawks came back home with an 8-4 mark. After losing two matches Friday, they bounced back and won two of three Saturday, including a 2-1 victory over reigning state champ Tampa Berkeley Prep, which has ousted CSN from the playoffs the last two years.
“Last week was exhausting,” said MacIntyre, whose team will play LaBelle on Thursday, then St. John Neumann and Gateway Charter next week before taking off for Italy.
When the Seahawks return home, they’ll visit Clewiston on Sept. 25 before a much-anticipated rematch with Bishop Verot in Fort Myers.
“I’m excited for the next few weeks just because I think we’ll see a lot (and) be able to work on a lot of different things,” MacIntyre said.
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.