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Northside's Mathews regaining killer instinct

By BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 2000


Pick any time of year and you will most likely find Melissa Mathews on a volleyball court. She'll be the one flying through the air with her arm cocked behind her right ear, then flicking it forward and sending the ball spiraling toward the other end of the floor.

Mathews, a senior at Northside Christian, perfected her skill during nine years of playing at the club and high school level.

She was good at swinging hard and making the kill. It was a routine, though, that was also killing her shoulder.

Playing in a club tournament last March, Mathews approached the net and came away with a pain that was unbearable. She stayed in the match, but cried the entire time.

The tears kept coming as Mathews had trouble sitting in class and concentrating.

Doctors originally thought it was a rotator cuff injury and recommended surgery. Mathews knew better. She got a second opinion and what she found out was bizarre.

Mathews had severed a nerve in her shoulder. The reason? From swinging too hard.

"The doctors said I was a special case," Mathews said.

What followed was grueling rehabilitation as Mathews worked her shoulder back into shape. She sat out most of club season and wasn't cleared to begin high school play until late August.

"I was prepared to play the season without her," Mustangs coach Michelle Martinez said. "I just told her to keep me posted."

Since returning, Mathews has slowly worked her way back to form.

"It was weird the first time I stepped back on the floor," she said. "I had wondered if it was worth it, to try to come back. But when you've been playing as long as I have, it's just something you have to do."

Mathews has regained her power and confidence. She has teamed with fellow seniors Peggy Heim, Megan Armstrong and Heather Chisholm to form a nucleus on a club that's rebuilding. Northside, which has made it to regionals the past four seasons, has started out 6-9.

"All four seniors have demonstrated good leadership," Martinez said. "For Melissa, she isn't where she was last year, but she's getting and is showing more stamina."

THEY'RE BAAACK: Lakewood coach Donna Dicus said she expected things to be tough to start the season. The Spartans lost five seniors to graduation from a team that advanced to the state regional semifinals.

What Dicus didn't expect was to lose her best player, Laura Moncrief, a senior who transferred to the Academy of the Holy Names. Moncrief attended camp with the rest of the Lakewood team in August and Dicus said all indications pointed to her playing for the Spartans.

Dicus found out she wouldn't be playing for her the first day of school.

"When I didn't see her, I knew something was up," Dicus said.

Yet despite the overhaul of the roster, the one thing that hasn't changed with Lakewood is its winning ways.

The Spartans are 9-4 overall, and with a 6-1 record in conference play, they are the favorite to represent the South division in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship match.

Lakewood has stayed on top thanks to its new stars. Sophomore setter Nicole Pillar, who was on the junior varsity squad last season, has been steady and has set up hitters Shawna Raley and Tiffany Hanna.

SPIKES AND STUFF: Last week, Seminole recored its biggest victory of the season with a three-game win over Palm Harbor University. ... River Ridge may be ranked No. 8 in the Class 5A state poll, but in Pinellas County they're just rank-and-file. PHU and East Lake have beaten the Royal Knights the past two weeks to jump ahead of them in district standings.

This week's best bet

Countryside at Clearwater

This is the match for the regular season. The Cougars are ranked No. 9 in Class 5A and are 18-3. The Tornadoes are 19-1 and are the top-ranked team in 4A. The match isn't just for bragging rights. Whoever wins Tuesday night has a huge advantage in representing the North division in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship match on Oct. 21. Both teams have had injury problems lately, but most players have recovered on both sides. More troublesome is that it's Homecoming week at each school. But there shouldn't be too much of a problem concentrating on this one.

Player of the week: Christen Lafferty

Clearwater Central Catholic had some questions about who would lead the team after graduating four starters. Christen Lafferty has been the answer. The 6-foot-1 senior has been the one the Marauders look up to. She has dominated with kills and blocks. The net result? CCC has won six of its past nine matches, including victories over St. Petersburg Catholic, Shorecrest, Winter Park Trinity Prep and Melbourne Central Catholic.

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