With a roster full of upperclassmen, this year’s Dr. Phillips volleyball team looks to go big under first-year head coach Emily Loftus.
| 2:38 p.m. August 22, 2019
Time flies — just ask Emily Loftus.
After taking over the Dr. Phillips volleyball program this summer, Loftus has been working relentlessly to prepare herself and her team for the 2019 season.
Over the past few months she has gone over everything — who’s coming back, the general state of the program and so on — but even then it doesn’t feel like enough time.
“This summer flew by — it’s almost like I wish we had more time, because every team wants more time to prepare,” said Loftus with a laugh. “Every team wants that extra hour — that extra day — to prepare. If you’re a perfectionist like me, then you really just want to take the time to make sure that everything is smoothed out.”
The time to prepare has evaporated in front of her eyes, and now the games are afoot, as the Panthers start the regular season Thursday, Aug. 22, against Apopka.
While she’d like more time, there’s an excitement in her voice when she talks about the season at hand, and she’s not the only one who is ready to go. It may have felt like a fast summer for Loftus, but for athletes such as senior middle blocker Marika Virthe, it’s felt like an eternity.
“I’m really happy that it has finally come around,” Virthe said. “We’ve been waiting for this all summer, and we’ve been working hard at open gym and before school started, so we are all pretty excited.”
And the Panthers have a lot to be excited for, especially considering the experience and talent that’s returning to the court for Dr. Phillips.
There was the loss of captain middle blocker and right setter Mallory Porcher — who is now playing at North Carolina A&T — but outside of that the Panthers remain largely intact from last season.
Made up of the likes of Virthe, junior outside hitter Alexis Distasio, juniors Olivia Osuna and Kaley Landis, Loftus’ core of strong players will offer the much needed prowess that will help her tremendously in her first year. Even with the talent coming back, Loftus will admit that there’s still things to tweak.
“We see the core — we have it — it’s just fine tuning certain parts that we really need to focus on, and I’m ready to get into the nitty gritty,” Loftus said. “I’m ready to really get in there and really see what kind of changes we can make and what adjustments we can make. I’m just like the girls — I’m as hungry as ever and I’m so ready to compete that it’s not even funny.”
Learning the strengths and weaknesses of the girls and the team as a whole is just one of the hurdles that Loftus has to face, but fewer may be bigger than dealing with the expectations for the program itself.
Over the last decade, the Panthers have become known as consistent winners on the court, and the expectations are to not only to compete, but to win big. Like last year, the Panthers are expected to win 20 games a season and take home district crowns — both of which Dr. Phillips did last season during its 2018 campaign.
“I’m really happy that it has finally come around. We’ve been waiting for this all summer, and we’ve been working hard at open gym and before school started, so we are all pretty excited.”
“We have such high expectations that I do not plan on doing anything less than those expectations, and that’s pressure,” Loftus said. “That is 100% pressure, and that can be challenging to work with sometimes, but at the same time can you come up with any more motivation? It’s what pushes me the most.
“Being a part of a DP program — any DP sport — you already have that,” she said. “Then when you put kids on my team — like the kids that I have who are D1 commits — then you are really looking at a lot of pressure and the girls can feel the pressure too, but it’s what drives the competition. Our underlying theme this whole year is to compete.”
Consider the added pressure of meeting expectations as fuel to the fire that helps push this year’s volleyball team. Or at least, that seems to be the case for Loftus and the players themselves.
And meeting those expectations head on has helped develop the girls over the span of their careers at Dr. Phillips, and it’s also led to the team becoming a more cohesive unit.
“I think we’re more serious this year, and we are more of a team — we are more gelled together and everyone has a good connection with each other,” Distasio said. “I think everyone is working a lot harder.”