Bayshore Christian is perhaps the state's best Class A team, even if the players aren't quite ready to believe it.
TAMPA - Bayshore Christian's most powerful hitter, junior Stevi Cherry, hesitated at the thought of the Faith Warriors winning a Class A state title this season.
Then she grinned shyly and quietly replied: "Yeah. Yeah, I think we will."
If the Faith Warriors aren't pulling out the glittering pompoms and spray painting "STATE-BOUND" on their cars just yet, it's not because they could end up being wrong. Barring a disaster, they're practically a sure thing in the final four.
If they seem like the last folks to brag about a victory, it's because they can't shake the feeling of being small fries in a county of volleyball champions. That doesn't mean they aren't confident, although confidence against some of their bigger opponents is something they have had to gradually learn.
The biggest moment of truth as a team came last week, when Bayshore Christian defeated Academy of the Holy Names, a 2A team loaded with talent and experience. The Faith Warriors, who have four club players and one senior, won 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 25-27, 15-8, but it was sometime around the second game that they began to realize what was going on.
"Even if we had lost that match, it was the first time we started feeling like we were playing together," freshman outside hitter Adria Mullaney said. "We were like, "Whoa, this is a team.' ... It felt neat. It felt cool."
Bayshore Christian, a small high school of 92 students (nearly 10 percent of the school is on the varsity volleyball team), is 12-1. The Faith Warriors made it to the region semifinals last season, where they were defeated by Fort Myers Canterbury. Canterbury also defeated Bayshore Christian in the 2001 region semifinals.
This season, the Faith Warriors seem primed to compete with some of the top Class A teams (Canterbury has moved to 2A) and they are vying for a title with one of the most balanced lineups they've had in years.
Bayshore previously relied on one of the top outside hitters in the state, Ericka Womack (now at University of Tampa), to help carry it through the playoffs, but now the teams feels that it has more strengths than weaknesses. Five players returned to the lineup along with senior setter Katie Mitcham, who attended Plant and played backup behind Emily Kirkwood the past two years.
Mitcham attended Bayshore since grade school before transferring and said it was nice to return to her roots as a leader of a potential state title contender.
"They (the Faith Warriors) understand that they have the ability," Mitcham said. "They're not snooty about it or cocky.
"We all went in to the Academy game a little skeptical, and we were just going to try our hardest. Academy has a whole team of seniors. ... We were a little bit shocked when we won."
They are now hoping to get to the point where they are shocked if they don't win, especially if that point comes during the playoffs.
"But we say that humbly," coach Melanie Humenansky said. "We don't think it will be easy."