Thomas Passafaro is excited to be coaching the Titans. Olympia is coming off a 2016-17 season where the program made it to the state final four for the first time.
After having a fantastic season last year, one in which the Titans made it all the way to the FHSAA Class 9A State Semifinals in Lakeland, the Olympia High girls basketball team began this season with a different coach.
Originally from New Jersey, Coach Thomas Passafaro is taking over the team that most recently was led by Robert Carmody, who stepped down over the summer.
A newcomer to Florida within the past two years, Passafaro originally relocated to the area to coach at Cornerstone Charter Academy in Belle Isle, south of downtown Orlando.
In June, though, he decided to apply for the job at Olympia High School and was hired.
“I wanted the opportunity to coach at a school that is passionate about its sports and its athletics,” Passafaro said. “(I wanted to) give myself the opportunity to show that I can do it on a bigger stage.”
As the Titans’ new coach, Passafaro held a few workouts to get to know the girls during the summer, and so far the experience has been a good one.
“It’s been great, the girls are awesome,” Passafaro said. “They’re coming off of a successful year last year and they all know what it takes to get that far — but what nice, too, is that it is a completely different team.”
The program at Olympia is focused on continuing to build, even though they lost several seniors — and some height — from last year’s roster.
With that said, the Titans will look to emphasize defense under their new staff.
“My teams are always based on defense — we’re gonna play good, hard defense,” Passafaro said. “Offensively, we are a very patient team. We run very different types of offense trying to get our different players into the position they need to succeed.”
Despite having a new staff and several new faces who will have to contribute on the court, the expectations are still high for the Titans a year after making it to state.
“The expectations are set pretty high, considering we got to the state final four, so there is a lot of pressure this year with a younger team,” senior forward Sarah Louis said. “This year we have less height, we are a smaller team — but we have a lot of shooters and we have speed, so that’s the different game that we are playing this year.”
Several of the girls are playing varsity for the first time, something the team works to address during practice.
“I like (Passafaro’s) methods, because he wants us to go somewhere, so he pushes us to our limits,” Jazmine Gelfand said. “He makes us do stuff we are not comfortable doing in practice so it would roll over into the games and we can get back to the final four.”
The team’s first regular season game will be at a Thanksgiving Day tournament at Celebration High School, but their opponent is still to be determined.
Passafaro’s vision for his team is to play its last game this season in Lakeland.
“I believe we have a good chance,” he said. “These girls (have an) ability to learn new things at a quick pace, and if we keep building and don’t get injuries, I honestly think we could win the state championship this year.”