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Cobras seek better start to their season

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 25, 2002

Linda McQuade remembers the way Hudson finished last season, but she also is aware of the way the season began.

Three losses out of the gate, stumbling to a 1-5 start. It's a risk that comes with a young team building an identity and needing a month to establish itself on the court.

What has McQuade excited about the months ahead is her Cobras show no signs of that same preseason stupor.

One week before this season begins, Hudson looks more like the cohesive unit that upset state-ranked River Ridge in the district championship.

"This team is much more aggressive," McQuade said. "Last year, we were slow going. But this year, we're off to a much quicker pace."

Leading the returning contingent is senior middle hitter Tarah Marinelli, who McQuade said led a strong team interest in conditioning during the summer and looks poised to improve on last season's team-high 202 kills.

"Tarah spent the summer in the weight room, and she's a much stronger player," McQuade said. "She's hitting harder, serving harder. So she's done a good job getting herself ready."

The only starters gone from last season's 21-10 team are setter Kelly Aguis and outside hitter Jackie Law.

Two sophomores are in position to take over their spots. At setter is Jenna Strawser, whose brother, Bryan, pitched for the Cobras baseball team and sister, Melissa, was part of Hudson's 1997 final four team. Law's sister, Courtney, could step up as a starter on the back row.

With Marinelli leading the team from the middle, the Cobras also have two returning starters on the outside in senior Lauren Bislick and junior Jessica Borrello.

McQuade said her team isn't dwelling on its district upset and ensuing victory in the first round of the playoffs. If anything, it is ready to start anew and put 2001 in the past.

"You can't play volleyball in rewind," McQuade said. "You have to go forward from where you left off. Their goals and aspirations have nothing to do with last year, though one goal is to start off better this time."

The conference title is wide open, with five teams staking a legitimate claim as contenders. River Ridge, last season's champs, lost five seniors, including county player of the year Ali Bigger. Ridgewood and Mitchell return most of their strong lineups from a season ago.

Those four teams will battle for two playoff spots in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament at Tarpon Springs, and both the Cobras and Knights see themselves as the team to beat. That argument might be settled in two regular-season meetings but could linger into another title game.

"I think people will look at us as the team to beat," said River Ridge coach Heidi Castelamare, whose team's loss to Hudson was one of just five all season. "I know my seniors want to go to (the final four), but our region is very strong once we get out of districts."

Factor in Wesley Chapel, which owned its east-side district last year and could be in position to challenge the west-side powers, and more than half the county can challenge.

Hudson, eager to prove itself, faces the Rams, Mustangs and Knights during the first three weeks of the season, waiting for the Wildcats until the regular-season finale Oct.24.

"Everybody always guns for us, it seems," McQuade said. "Everyone likes to get us, whether we're up or down. I don't care which side of the fence you're on."

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