New Seahawks player Laela Jimenez, right, talks to Caroline Costa during Community School of Naples' home sweep of Seacrest Country Day School on Sept. 9. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Last year, Community School of Naples stamped itself as one of the best volleyball programs in Southwest Florida, regardless of state classification.
The Seahawks went 19-6 during an eventful 2018 season that included a team trip to Italy and several high-profile wins. (CSN scored a pair of victories against both First Baptist Academy, which ended up reaching the Class 3A state semifinals for a second straight season, and Bishop Verot, which long ago achieved district dynasty status and had never before lost to CSN. Also, in a span of three days, the Seahawks beat Class 7A runner-up South Fork and Collier County powerhouse Barron Collier, which lost to South Fork in the state semifinals.)
However, when the postseason arrived in late October, the Seahawks ran out of gas. Bishop Verot exacted its revenge with a straight-set sweep in the district title match; then, Cardinal Mooney, which nearly won the Class 5A title, dispatched CSN from the regional quarterfinals in three relatively easy sets.
The problem for the Seahawks last fall? They had little to no depth. In the loss to Mooney, all six CSN starters were forced to play the entire match.
Much to coach Alicia MacIntyre’s delight, the depth is there for the Seahawks in 2019. MacIntyre — whose team has dropped just one set (against Verot) en route to an 8-0 start — is routinely playing anywhere from eight to 11 players each match.
“That is what’s different about this year, is we have depth on the bench,” MacIntyre said following her team’s straight-set home win over Seacrest Country Day School on Sept. 9. “… Last year, we had six to seven people at all times. This year, at any time, I can look down the bench and say, ‘That’s who we need.’
“(The depth) is exciting because we have a lot of different lineups that we can show.”
Though two of them wouldn’t be called “new faces,” the Seahawks have essentially added four players to this year’s team. Sophomores Cassidy Bloom and Becca Micelle are back in the main rotation after injury-plagued 2018 seasons; and sisters Laela and Angel Jimenez have been key contributors as sophomore and freshman transfers, respectively.
MacIntyre said Angel Jimenez and sophomore Brooke Vroman are the two reserve players “we can look to at any time and have confidence that they’re going to go do their job.”
While CSN lost Laura Zuloaga — who averaged 3.5 kills and 0.5 blocks per set last season — to graduation, Bloom and fellow sophomore Elly Beshears have helped maintain the Seahawks’ offensive attack. Bloom is averaging a team-best 3.7 kills per set; and Beshears (who earned All-American status at an AAU national tournament this summer) is right behind her at 3.4 after averaging 2.9 last season.
MacIntyre credits sophomore Caroline Costa — “a really good setter who puts the ball where it needs to be” — with keeping the train running on time for CSN’s offense. Costa is averaging 11.4 assists per set — a substantial increase from last year’s 9.8 clip.
It’s on defense where MacIntyre is most impressed with her players.
“Defensively, we strive (to be great). We dig deeper and deeper for that every day,” MacIntyre said. “They come in here every day and they work harder than any team I’ve ever been a part of … because they have a want.”
MacIntyre said her returning players took last year’s playoff disappointment into the offseason and worked hard all the way through to the summer.
“They are looking to not just have a good season but to have a successful postseason,” said MacIntyre, who pointed to some big tournaments later this season at Tampa Berkeley Prep and in Miami that should help her team get playoff-ready.
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