Upon its return from a high-level tournament in Miami, the Dr. Phillips boys volleyball team is off to an 8-3 start and has its sights set on a return to the FHSAA State Playoffs.
The regular season for boys volleyball in Florida spans eight weeks, from the last week in February through April 21. During that time, the Dr. Phillips Panthers will play about 25 games — the final number will depend on how they fare in some of their weekend tournament events.
Because of some quirks of the schedule, though, the bulk of that schedule is packed into a two-week stretch during which the Panthers will play 15 games. It is a gauntlet that second-year head coach Jeremy Fonnett hopes will tell him all he needs to know about his team’s moxie.
“It’s just how the district had it and how the tournaments happened to be,” Fonnett said, reflecting on the rugged stretch. “I want the guys to realize that, win or lose, we’re going to play the best teams in the regular season — then, in districts, we’re ready for it.”
Halfway through that stretch, the Panthers are passing the test with high marks.
Dr. Phillips was 7-2 upon its return from the Ransom Invitational tournament last weekend in Miami and is 8-3 as of March 16. The Panthers have victories over rival Olympia, The First Academy and a trio of schools from Miami.
Built around a core of five players with year-round travel experience, Dr. Phillips has asserted itself as a team to watch as the boys volleyball season hits its stride.
“They listen and respond well to criticism,” Fonnett said.
Fonnett, a 2003 graduate of Dr. Phillips and former player within the program, took over the varsity team last season after coaching the junior varsity team for eight years. He replaced longtime coach April Ball, who moved out of the area.
In his first season, Fonnett inherited a team strong enough to win a district title before falling in the playoffs.
The Panther player-turned-coach is appreciative of the culture his predecessor created.
“April did a heck of a job creating a team unity here, where the boys knew what to expect and they had certain goals to achieve,” Fonnett said.
Sam Barnett, Jon Diedrich and Jordan Poventud provide much of the firepower at the net for the Panthers, but the team runs through its setter and unanimous captain, senior Blake Inlow. Inlow is one of a handful of players on the roster with the potential to continue his career in college. But for now, he, his teammates and Fonnett are focused on improving each day ahead of what will be a rugged district tournament.
“We could lose in the first round of districts — that’s how good our district is,” Fonnett said.
Then, he added, “Or we could make it to state.”