Isabella Saba, Annielee Schiller, Aimee Stemples and Zoey Williams represented about a third of the roster for the Brasil Volleyball Academy — or Bravo — 14U team that made an underdog run to a third-place finish at AAU Junior Nationals.
Four local girls from Windermere and Horizon West came together this summer as part of an exciting — and unlikely — run to a third-place finish at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships.
Isabella Saba, Annielee Schiller, Aimee Stemples and Zoey Williams represented about a third of the roster for the Brasil Volleyball Academy — or Bravo — 14U team.
Not only were the girls playing for a relatively unknown startup club that is in just its second year of existence, but for three of them — Saba, Schiller and Williams — their experience with Bravo has been their first true experience of competitive club volleyball.
“It was pretty scary at first, because I thought everyone was going to be better than me,” Williams said.
The Celebration-based club was welcoming, though, and the girls saw their skills progress quickly throughout 2016, when they joined.
“The thing I like about my coach (Bravo master coach Ricardo Pereira) is that he sees what everyone individually needs,” Saba said.
Saba, Schiller and Williams came to Bravo together, as they attended Bridgewater Middle together and have been friends for a few years. Stemples, who lives near all three but had not met them previously because she went to Holy Family Catholic School, arrived through her friendship with another player for Bravo — Luciana Pereira.
In addition to having some new friends that live nearby, Stemples said it has been a fun experience learning from the Brazilian coaching staff at Bravo, noting she’s even picked up a little Portuguese along the way.
“We really just wanted to do our best — we really didn’t expect anything."
— Aimee Stemples
“There’s a little bit of a language barrier — I can’t speak it, but I can understand it when they say it,” Stemples said.
During the season, the Bravo team consistently impressed and won several smaller tournaments. Coming into AAU Junior Nationals, which is hosted at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, the girls tempered their expectations and took it one set at a time.
“We really just wanted to do our best — we really didn’t expect anything,” Stemples said.
The girls from Bravo did just that, winning their first eight matches of the event in two-set sweeps. Their second-to-last match — and final win — of the event came against a strong team from Texas, and required the girls to prevail in a deciding third set, 15-10.
In total, Bravo went 12-1 at the event and placed third.
For the four friends, playing together for club volleyball has been a lot of fun — especially for the three who knew one another prior to joining Bravo.
“I get to see my friends very competitively and just like messing around,” Schiller said. “It’s super cool to see different sides of their different personalities. It’s a blast and we all get along very well.”
The girls intend on continuing with Bravo, but also will have some added volleyball responsibilities. Saba, Schiller and Williams each made the freshman team at Windermere High, and Stemples made the varsity team at Montverde Academy.
Should the three girls at Windermere work their way up to varsity, the teammates for Bravo may one day get to face off as rivals, should Montverde and the Wolverines ever cross paths.
“I think that would be a lot of fun,” Stemples said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].