CO-PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: Emily the setter and Sarah the power hitter lead Plant to consecutive Class 4A state volleyball titles.
By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2002
TAMPA -- Emily Kirkwood has gotten used to the attention her younger sister, Sarah, gets on the court. The youngest of three sisters (oldest sister Allison is a former swimmer who attends Stanford) has a way of wowing spectators with her Herculean attacks as an outside hitter and no-fail jump serve.
But Sarah claims it is Emily who does all the dirty work. Plant hasn't won the past two Class 4A state titles with one great player, but with six or seven. And Emily, the setter, carries the most, albeit the quietest, responsibility.
"If you don't notice the setter in a match, it means she did her job," Sarah said.
When Sarah sprained her ankle during the 4A semifinals against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, only her sister could have convinced -- or ordered -- her to keep playing.
"I told her, 'You will play,"' Emily said. "We needed her."
Sarah helped the Panthers get through the semifinals, and even with a slight limp, Emily didn't go easy on her. Emily had 39 assists and Sarah led the team with 25 kills in Plant's 12-15, 15-3, 15-3 title victory over Gainesville.
Emily was named the Class 4A Player of the Year by the Florida Dairy Farmers Association and will attend the University of Virginia on a volleyball scholarship.
Sarah, who is 11 months younger than Emily ("We're the same age for two weeks," Sarah said.), hopes to survive next season without her.
Teri Ohme had the good fortune of beginning her varsity coaching career in a school district endowed with some of the state's most talented players. In Durant's first year of existence in 1995, Ohme surprised Hillsborough County and took the Cougars to the state semifinals. Every season, Ohme seemed to have a knack for scouting 6-foot girls in the halls and turning them, and their younger sisters, into volleyball players.
But Ohme's success can't be attributed to luck alone. The fierce passion she had as a player at Brandon, which once reigned in volleyball, is present in her coaching and she has shaped Durant into a powerhouse.
Her passion for volleyball has shaped her own life as well.
During Durant's famous first season, Ohme was prepared to adjust her own wedding plans after it looked like the state championship would fall on the same day. The Cougars ended up never making it that far, much to Ohme's disappointment.
Ohme has also coached on the sidelines while dangerously close to going into labor. Her young children and husband, Kevin, have sat patiently through countless matches and weekend tournaments.
Ohme, 31, has won more than 200 matches in her career and has led the Cougars to three state titles, including this season's dramatic 16-18, 15-11, 15-9 victory over East Lake.
Sarah Kirkwood, Jr., OH, Plan
One of the state's most versatile players racked up 458 kills, 350 assists, 161 blocks, 61 aces and 364 passes/digs. Albury, the Times All-Citrus/Hernando Player of the Year the past two seasons, led the Warriors to a 28-2 record and the Class A, District 7 title. She was also named the Class A Player of the Year by the Florida Dairy Farmers and Florida Athletic Coaches associations. Warriors coach Scott Lyons said the multitalented athlete will graduate as one of the school's all-time greats in any sport. Albury expects to play volleyball in college
Nikki Morzenti: Senior, Middle Hitter, Clearwater
After switching schools three times and making the playoffs once, Morzenti enjoyed her finest season in 2002. She led the Tornadoes to their first conference title since 1999 and helped them knock off No. 1 Fort Myers in the Class 5A region semifinals.
Nicole LeBlanc: Senior, Middle Blocker, Durant
Having spent her first few seasons in the shadow of stars such as Jenna Jordan, LeBlanc was a leader waiting to happen. Cougars coach Teri Ohme spent much of the season trying to coax the 6-foot-1 LeBlanc into being more vocal and influential, and she settled into the role just in time. The Cougars peaked just before the postseason and appeared unstoppable in the playoffs. LeBlanc was one of Hillsborough County's leaders in kills and had 24 during the state tournament. LeBlanc has accepted a volleyball scholarship to Baylor.
Danielle Herndon: Senior, Outside Hitter, Durant
No one carries the look of intensity quite like Herndon. The 5-foot-9 power hitter is all business all the time when it comes to volleyball. Herndon, who's quiet and serious on the court, is known for her intelligence and consistency. Where others had ups and downs, Herndon was a reliable competitor in every match. Herndon, who has committed to Notre Dame, has been one of the area's top players for most of her varsity career. She and LeBlanc kept opponents guessing and helped Durant maintain its reputation as one of the state's most powerful teams.
Cally Stolbach: Junior, Outside Hitter, Berkeley Prep
Stolbach follows a long line of prodigies for coach Randy Dagostino and promises to be one of the top five players in the state next season. She led the young Bucs by example during what was supposed to be a rebuilding season. The Bucs reached the state final as Stolbach collected 19 kills and 10 digs. Emerging as one of Berkeley Prep's most improved players last season, Stolbach entered this season determined and confident. Her toughness and athleticism will be the mainstay of a team next season that will likely make a strong run at a state title.
Jessica Smith: Senior, Outside Hitter, Plant
Considering she has not played club volleyball since her sophomore year, Smith's accomplishments were remarkable. Her high jump and hyper style of play offset the fact she was one of Plant's smallest players (5-foot-6). Smith was sometimes scolded by her coaches and teammates for being too energetic. Coach Kimi Hellenberg was furious when Smith injured her knee doing a back flip her junior year, keeping her sidelined for part of the season. Known for getting rattled during big matches, Smith stayed composed and solid during the state playoffs. She helped the Panthers win a second Class 4A championship with 17 digs, 16 kills and 5 aces in the final two matches.
Beverly Stasis, Jr., OH, Countryside; Kelleigh O'Neill, Sr., OH, East Lake; Carla Tagarelli, Sr., S, East Lake; Lauren Taylor, So., MB, Plant; Katelen Dixon, Jr., OH, Mitchell; Dawn Conner, Sr., OH, River Ridge.
Berkeley Prep -- Janet Okogbaa, Eden Ramos; Brooksville Central -- Tamara Tatham, Thalia Tatham; Clearwater -- Sloan Baby; Crystal River -- Lisandra Vazquez; Durant -- Christen Garcia; East Lake -- Chelsea Lazar, Melissa Roberts; Hernando -- Kristi Langworthy; Largo -- Jen King; Plant -- Amy Rumore; Seminole -- Jen Hansen, Ashley Martin, Dyionna Smith; Seven Rivers Christian -- Alice Zeiss; Sickles -- Jennifer Vance; Tampa Prep -- Jess Thomas; Tarpon Springs -- Erika Siaciunas.