DR. PHILLIPS Danny Eleutiza had intended to take a couple of years off from high-school volleyball.
After stepping down as the head coach at Foundation Academy, where he had led the Lions to state runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2013, Eleutiza had planned on focusing on his role at Orlando Tampa Volleyball Academy, where he is a coach, tournament director and camp coordinator, as well as on his family.
But when Lindsey Carter stepped down as the coach at Dr. Phillips High in the spring, the opening at the Southwest Orlando school — a 10-minute drive from OTVA’s South Campus and a 15-minute drive from Eleutiza’s home — was too good an opportunity to pass up.
“It was a no-brainer,” Eleutiza said during a practice Aug. 4. “The chance to coach a program with prospects to try to make a run to state. … There’s talent here for them to make a run.”
During the first week of practice, Eleutiza and his staff began to implement his culture and expectations. To help with the transition, Eleutiza retained two members of the previous staff. Although many of the team’s returners were sad to see Carter go, Eleutiza’s reputation through the club volleyball scene led to enthusiasm when he was announced as the replacement.
“When I found out Danny was going to be our coach, I was really excited,” said McKenzie Tracy, a senior defensive specialist for the Panthers. “He is very personable, and he likes to know everybody, individually. … He likes to pick on you so he can make you a better all-around player.”
Eleutiza promises a team rooted in a defense and ball control-first philosophy. Making the jump from competing at the Class 2A and 3A levels at Foundation to Class 9A with the Panthers is something that has reinvigorated the veteran coach.
“I coach at the highest level when it comes to club,” Eleutiza said. “I want to play against the best.”
Dr. Phillips will hit the hardwood for game action for the first time under its new coach Aug. 17 at the DeLand Invitational, a preseason event. The Panthers will open the season Aug. 23 at home against Colonial. Tough challenges await Dr. Phillips early in the season, with The First Academy and Apopka on the schedule toward the end of the month (Aug. 29 and Aug. 30, respectively).
The Panthers’ roster this season features six seniors to pair with some talented underclassmen, including three freshmen who Eleutiza feels can contribute right away. In all, the hope is that, in a loaded Central Florida volleyball scene, Dr. Phillips can surprise some teams.
“It’s a very good mix of seniors with underclassmen,” Eleutiza said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].