It’s certainly not a secret.
When teams line up against the Dr. Phillips girls volleyball team, opposing captains and coaches always make sure the other girls on those teams know who she is and where she’s lined up.
It’s essential — if you’re going to defeat the Panthers (5-2), that effort starts with game planning against senior outside hitter Rachel Sawyer.
“Rachel is the go-to player right now, and everyone else knows that,” head coach Lindsey Carter said. “Every other team, they point her out right away.
“It puts a lot of pressure on her, but she handles pressure really well,” she said.
In her senior season with Dr. Phillips, Sawyer is the most consistent presence on a team still learning to play with one another and coming together under Carter, who returned to lead the Panthers after spending a year away to be with her two children.
Dr. Phillips boasts a roster with some young, talented players. But, those players are in need of guidance and leadership — an area that is new and beneficial to Sawyer.
“I definitely think it’s difficult — I’m not used to necessarily being in that position (as a leader),” Sawyer said. “I definitely think I’m doing well.
“I think that I’m a leader for these girls and that they respect me,” she said. “They trust me to help them get things done.”
The Panthers have just two other seniors to pair with Sawyer. There are two talented freshman in Morgan Grillier and Kelly Gauger and four sophomores, led by libero Fabiola Ribas.
There are also six juniors with the team.
The youth presence on the team gives the program tremendous upside — not only for later this season as they progress but also in the next season or two to follow.
In the meantime, though, as the younger players work on consistency, Sawyer often finds herself having to work extra hard, going up multiple times per volley to get kills that her team needs to win games.
“She’ll sometimes get 60 swings in a match, which no one else is even close to that,” Carter said. “She always rises to the occasion and puts on her game face.”
Sawyer committed to Rollins before the season started, ending her recruiting process, but that doesn’t mean she has relaxed much.
The talented outside hitter feels she has to live up to the scholarship the Tars have offered her and that, in a way, the competition for playing time at the college level next year starts now.
“I definitely have to worry about getting better,” Sawyer said. “I want to go in and actually play when I get to Rollins.”
As the Panthers prepare to co-host a tournament at Orlando Volleyball Academy this weekend (along with Edgewater) and also enter the back half of their regular season schedule, one thing Carter has done to spice things up is open up competition for almost every position — and she said she likes the results so far.
“(Because) I’m doing that, everyone is busting their butt (in practice), because they don’t know whose position it is,” Carter said. “Practices have become very competitive.”
Dr. Phillips’ wins largely have been sweeps over teams against which they match up well. This weekend, they hope to notch a signature win or two over some of the toughest competition in the state.
“We’re in the premiere division, which is the highest division, so the pressure is on,” Carter said. “We’re hoping to get some big wins off these teams.”
And, although there may be a lack of familiarity with pool play opponents Gulliver Prep and Hebron Christian Academy, it’s a safe bet those teams will have at least heard that they need to keep an eye on No. 3 for Dr. Phillips.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].
Edgewater/Dr. Phillips Tournament at Orlando Volleyball Academy
Teams participating in the two-day event include (local teams in bold):
Classic Division: Lake Placid, River Ridge, Ocoee, Melbourne, Indian Rocks Christian, South Lake, Poinciana, Avon Park, Seven Rivers Christian, Belleview, The Master’s Academy, Mater Academy, Space Coast, Edgewater, Pedro Menendez, Sebastion River.
Elite Division: Suncoast, Vero Beach, Lyman, American Heritage, Windermere Prep, Flagler Palm Coast, Harmony, Auburndale, St. Edwards, Father Lopez, Freedom, Lake Brantley.
Premiere Division: University (Palm Harbor), Immaculate Heart, Holy Trinity, Seminole, Cypress Creek, Timber Creek, Calvary Christian, Hebron Christian, DeLand, Dr. Phillips, John A. Ferguson, Gulliver Prep.