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Seventh grader serves notice

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002

If Seven Rivers Christian is to win the state championship it seeks, the Warriors may have to count on the talented left arm of a 12-year-old.

Rachel Capra won't see her senior prom for five years, but she leads undefeated Seven Rivers with 41 aces in six matches. At 5-foot-6, the seventh-grader can pass for a high-schooler, especially on the court.

Senior teammate Danielle Albury said at first people don't believe her when she tells them Capra is so young.

"They probably think she's a ninth-grader. I'm sure people would never guess," Albury said. But Capra has been in the starting lineup of every match this season, and was instrumental in helping the Class A Warriors to an undefeated record (entering Friday night against Pine Castle Christian). "I think I found out I was playing varsity on the Friday before the first (match)," Capra remembered. "During practice, I was on the court first and my friend Cassidy (Rash) was like, "Oooh, you're going to start varsity.' And I was like, "No, I'm not.' Then (coach Scott Lyons) called me into his office and I was like, "Whoa.' "

Although teammates say Capra walked around with a panicked look, she said she received encouragement from players such as sophomore Alice Zeiss and Albury.

"I think the whole team has really encouraged her," Albury said. "We just all let her know she is a good player, she should be on the team, and she was ready to play."

In her first match, against Orlando Faith Christian, Capra had four aces and four digs. Battling nerves, she played well in last week's win over Class 4A Central, which starts six seniors. Although Capra had her first service fault, Lyons said she served 14 aces.

Capra sad she was "petrified," but Lyons said that was understandable making the jump from going against sixth-graders last year to seniors.

"She understands the level we're at and knows we're competing for a state championship, which is our goal," Lyons said. "So she's like, "I don't want to be the one to mess it up.' Of course she doesn't say that, but that's her body language."

Capra said the biggest difference between levels is how hard the ball is being hit at her. Although she primarily is a defensive player in a high-powered offense, Capra has a high of four kills, against Class 3A Hernando.

But the easy points she scores from behind the service line have been the biggest plus.

"She's a lefty, and lefties have that opposite spin," Lyons said. "So what happens is that even the best passers don't anticipate it, and the spin goes backward and creeps up your arms."

Lyons, whose daughter Lacey was brought up to the varsity last year right before districts, has no qualms about inserting the younger players if they can do the job. He promoted 5-10 eighth-grader Taylor Cooke last week, and seventh-graders Cassidy Rash and Kenzie Rowda have played varying roles. Lyons, also the Warriors' track coach, has utilized several middle-school athletes on his varsity squads. Last year as a sixth-grader, Capra ran a leg on the 4x400 relay team that finished 16th in the state meet.

Capra's volleyball future could be helped by genetics. Her mother, Kim, is nearly 6 feet tall. Capra's father, Jim, is 5-10 and said he's amazed by his daughter's natural ability.

But in any other county program, Capra and SRC's youngsters would not be able to compete at the high school level, regardless of skill.

Sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders may play varsity only if the middle and high schools are housed in the same building under the same principal, according to state regulations. Seven Rivers' team has just two upperclassmen. Headmaster Joel Satterly said the school has enjoyed success even with its smaller enrollment.

"We have 113 students in grades 7-12 to pull from, so when we play 3A or 4A schools, the numbers disparity is pretty high," Satterly said.

The opportunity for young athletes such as Capra to gain experience at a high level is invaluable. Opposing coaches will have to get used to seeing her in the lineup for years to come.

"If I'm kind of good now, when I get up in high school I'll probably be a lot better," Capra said.

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at 564-3628 or porter@sptimes.com.

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