By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000
ZEPHYRHILLS -- From Orlando to Stewart Middle School. To understand how far the Zephyrhills volleyball program has fallen in a season, one needs only to understand the geography of the situation.
The best season in school history ended in Orlando last year. At the Class 4A final four, the first final four in the program's history, the team lost 15-13, 15-7 to Jacksonville Bishop Kenny at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Kissimmee.
That team boasted three of Pasco County's top players in Lizzy Torres, the Times 1999 Pasco County Player of the Year, and all-county standouts Andrea Wardell and Tracy Negoshian. The Bulldogs' 24-10 record was the best in school history.
Now, a year later, there is little resemblance between that team and this one.
Reconstructive knee surgery knocked out Ashley McGavern. Junior standout Morgan Mander transferred to Tampa Prep. Beset by defections, injuries and anemic turnout, the Bulldogs are 0-6 and struggling to find an identity.
Not to mention bodies. Which is why coach Pat Moul promoted the entire junior varsity team, effectively ending its season but hopefully improving the varsity's year.
The varsity had just seven players to start the season. The number dropped to five after Amanda Griffin underwent surgery for appendicitis after Thursday's loss, and with Nikkie Castro still recovering from a shoulder injury and eight on the JV squad, well ... do the math.
The Bulldogs can't even practice in their home gym. Because of work being done to Zephyrhills' parquet floor -- during the season, no less -- the squad has been practicing at the gym at Stewart Middle this week.
Moul has a word to describe it all.
"Frustrated would be a good word," she said.
The coach has had little time to mold her new team.
With little time to practice, the revamped Zephyrhills team saw its first action in a loss to River Ridge on Tuesday night.
Wednesday, Moul was shouting over the loud din of the ancient air conditioner inside the Stewart Middle gym -- the doors still had to be propped open -- trying to re-install the offense and defense with her new team.
"We have to put everything in again," Moul said. "They're not used to what we're doing, so we have to teach everyone the offense and defense all over again.
"This is the first practice we're doing this. They looked okay in the game (Tuesday.) We're just trying to encourage them."
There is hope, though, that this team can improve.
That all the new promotions can bolster the front-line efforts of Ashley Tunker and Kaitlin Dolly. Moul also hopes to boost the skills and confidence of her JV players by throwing them into the varsity fire. From now on, she'll be rotating former JV players in and out of every contest.
"I tried to get the JV some playing time, mixing them up," she said. "They've never played together, so it was a bit rough (Tuesday.)"