Plant's fab freshmen prove their worth
By ROD GIPSON
Published October 7, 2005
TAMPA - Scan any local prep volleyball roster and you likely won't come across many freshmen. Check the starting lineups and it's almost unheard of.
Those rules do not apply at Plant, where the Panthers start a freshman, and have three more who see significant playing time and are helping the program chase a state title.
"It's definitely different and a little rare for (Hillsborough) County," Plant coach Leanna Taylor said. "But they all play major roles for us."
While Danielle Erb, Cameron Hill, Ariel Ley and Kayla Suskauer often are referred to as a group, Taylor said each has her own attributes.
Erb, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter that starts for the Panthers, brings athleticism and power.
Hill, who at 5-foot-5 is a defensive specialist, plays in the back row and possesses "all the needed defensive moves."
Ley, among the tallest players on the roster at 5-foot-11, plays backup on the right side of the court and is a perfectionist, according to Taylor.
And while Suskauer logs in the fewest minutes of the freshmen, Taylor said she is among the team's most athletic and physically fit players.
All of them classmates and club volleyball teammates at one time or another, the four have known each other for years and said this experience has made them even closer.
"This is a great opportunity for each of us," Erb said. "Being on varsity our freshman year. And Coach (Taylor) and our teammates have made it comfortable for all of us."
Taylor said that part was easy. "They all come from good feeder club teams," she said. "So they have played a lot of volleyball at high levels. They have fit right in."
But isn't playing for Plant, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A and a program that went to the state's final four a year ago, a little different from club volleyball? Absolutely, Taylor said, adding the foursome has held their own and impressed teammates along the way.
Plant will be out to prove itself again among elite competition today and Saturday at the Tampa Prep Invitational, the second high-level tournament in the past two weeks. The Panthers (14-1) placed fifth at the Berkeley Premier tournament last week.
With so much success in their first season, what will the foursome do for an encore?
They all smiled in unison.
"State championship, state championship, state championship."