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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
EAST LAKE - Most coaches will tell young athletes to leave their egos in the locker room and play the game as if they are equal to their teammates.
That's not the case at East Lake High School, where varsity volleyball coach Terry Small is trying to solve an ego problem with junior hitter Sara Rex.
The problem isn't keeping her ego out of sight. Small is trying to build Rex's ego into something she can use as a weapon.
"She has always been a great player, but she has always been kind of the quiet one," Small said. "The last couple of years we have been trying to get her to be more vocal. We're trying to give her the demeanor that she is a big star at all times."
At 6-feet tall and one of the hardest spikers in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference, Rex already has made a name for herself on the volleyball court. Last week Rex and her East Lake teammates soared into Palm Harbor and defeated the Hurricanes in three games.
Throughout the entire evening, Palm Harbor fans tried to knock Rex off her game. There were several impolite chants when the Eagle served and spiked, but in the end the negative noise may have done more good than harm for East Lake.
"It's motivation more than anything else," Rex said. "I don't take it personally. I know they are there to help their team. It'll get on my nerves, but it won't affect my play."
In the win over the Hurricanes, Rex had 23 digs and 13 kills. Small called it a below-average night, which is bad news for opponents this season and next.
But at the same time, the Eagles came together strong as a team, which means Rex is dangerous on a good night and the team is equally as dangerous when she is having an average night.
"The other players contributed and did what they had to do to make sure the team was successful," Small said. "It's something that had to happen and that's why I am proud. They are playing with more mature confidence than the young team they are."
Rex said she doesn't mind sharing the spotlight. If she took all the spike attempts, opposing defenses would always focus on her. Senior teammate Lindsey Opperman is also a threat and can take some of the attention away from Rex. Opperman had 14 digs and 12 kills against the Hurricanes.
Combined, Rex and Opperman are a lethal threat on defense. They have learned to work together on blocks and can cause headaches for opposing hitters.
"We've been familiar with each other since I was in seventh grade," Rex said of Opperman. "We actually started playing together my freshman year. We just know each other very well. You can't really block by yourself, especially in the middle. She knows very well where to set the blocks."
By mid-season, Small wants to see Rex's ego come into play more often. He said Rex will always have a great personality off the court, but he wants her to take charge in the middle of the floor. He said her teammates won't be offended. They are expecting it.
"She already has the respect of the team," Small said. "She's done that through her playing. Now she needs to start talking to the team on the court. That's what we challenged her to do last year."
Rex, who plays for team Florida in club volleyball, is also on a weight room program to make her serves and spikes even harder. Small has no doubt she will be an NCAA Division I player someday. Rex is looking forward to it.
"I think, if I try hard enough, I'll be able to do it," she said.
"She's been training at a very high level," Small said. "She hasn't even reached her potential yet."