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Top coaches have plenty in common

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

Their teams were first and second atop the conference and district standings. Their stars share Player of the Year honors.

It's only fitting, then, that River Ridge's Heidi Castelamare and Mitchell's Joe Dixon are the class of the county's coaches.

The two experienced success from different perspectives. River Ridge stubbornly refused to leave its perch atop the county, while Mitchell scratched away at the Knights' throne while dominating the rest of the conference.

The Mustangs' only county losses were to the Knights, who went undefeated against county opponents in the regular season for the second year in a row.

Castelamare entered the year with a title to defend, but she did so with only four returning players, mixing in a young lineup of experienced club players. With only two seniors graduating and powerful returning hitters in Tricia Thomas and Krystal Dennis, the Knights should be atop the county standings again when next season begins.

Mitchell will be all the more eager to take the throne away from its closest rivals next season. In three years, Dixon has established a program to rival the county's best, going from 12-14 in its first season to 14-11 last year before a breakout 23-7 mark that included the school's first invitational championship, playoff berth and playoff victory. Four seniors will graduate, but the Mustangs, too, should return as a team to beat.

Another joy -- and challenge -- both Castelamare and Dixon shared was coaching their daughters on the court. Brittany Castelamare shined as a freshman, playing nearly every minute, and Katelen Dixon solidified her position as the county's most feared player.

Both coaches are reflected well in their daughters.

The younger Dixon has a perpetual smile during play, regardless of the score. When an occasional kill tattoos an opponent's forehead, her instinct is to apologize rather than celebrate. Castelamare, too, quickly matured into a poised player, scrambling to save an errant pass while staring down match point in the district title win over Mitchell.

The county's top two teams will have the top two parent-daughter tandems leading the way next season, taking an entertaining rivalry to another level.

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