DR. PHILLIPS — Heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Apopka Blue Darters, the boys volleyball team at Dr. Phillips had gotten off to a 10-0 start this spring and defeated its opponents by a combined 25 sets to three.
Still, though the start was reason for excitement about the team and the Panthers had, to that point, defeated some quality teams, head coach April Ball and her squad recognized that the toughest tests were still ahead.
After scoring a 3-1 win (25-20, 16-25, 26-24, 25-23) over the Blue Darters, though, Dr. Phillips (11-0) had an important win to its credit with big games against powerhouses Bishop Moore and Lyman still ahead.
“I feel like we didn’t play our best ball the whole game, but we still found a way to win; so that makes me happy,” Ball said. “But we have a lot that we still need to work on if we’re going to beat that team again or beat the other teams that are strong in our district or in our area.”
Adding to reasons that Ball and her team are quick to temper their excitement is the district they are competing in. District 4 has 10 teams this spring and includes Bishop Moore and Apopka, as well as other talented teams like Olympia and West Orange. In boys volleyball, only the top four seeds in the district advance to the district tournament, meaning there will be a capable team that likely will not even get a chance to compete in the postseason.
“As excited as I am about our season (so far), we’re looking at our district like ‘who’s going to make it?’” Ball said. “Because we’re all strong and I don’t think there is one team that is so much better than the others. … This year we probably have one of the toughest districts in the state.”
Still, this year’s squad for the Panthers does have a special feel to this point. Ball, a longtime leader for the program who just a season ago recorded her 200th win for Dr. Phillips, says she has more players playing club volleyball than ever before and that her dynamic outside hitters — Kevin Rocklein and Logan Czyzewski — are firing on all cylinders so far.
In Tuesday’s game, Rocklein finished with 17 kills and 6 digs to pair with Czyzewski’s 16 kills and 7 digs.
“Both of my outside hitters are great,” Ball said. “We have more than one hitter, which is a blessing.”
Beyond the standout play of Cyzezewski, who recently committed to California Baptist University, and Rocklein, Ball says the growth of middle hitters Pierre Groenewald and Richie Diedrich — as well as the progression of setter Vini Duarte — have helped to give the Panthers more weapons than opponents often know what to do with.
“Their improvement is helping our outsides be successful,” Ball said. “This year (opponents) have to be ready to block our middle, which helps our outsides be more successful, as well.”
Within the next three weeks, Dr. Phillips will take on Bishop Moore (April 15) and Lyman (April 16) for the first time, Olympia (April 2) for the second time and competed in a tournament in Miami (April 10-11).
The hope for the Panthers is that they will get tested and demonstrate that they’re as good as advertised, all while clinching a spot in the district tournament, which begins on April 29.
“We’ve already talked about that — ‘we’re going to have adversity so how are we going to react?’” Ball said. “I feel like we’re a good enough team that we should know how to work through it.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].