Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Rare Repeat

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Rare Repeat

Article excerpt

Venice High School is poised for a run at a second straight volleyball title


So, the Teepee is gone and Venice High's stranglehold on area volleyball supremacy graduated with all-state seniors Danika Yoder and Holly Mattmuller.

Wrong. And wrong again.

Last season's Class 7A state champions have moved to 6A, and, more dauntingly, have emerging stars in every class -- from senior Holly Kabana to juniors Genevieve Beaumier and Lauren "LoLo" Mattmuller to sophomore Hannah Richards.

Venice appears poised for a rare first in Brian Wheatley's dominating, 20-year coaching career: back-to-back state titles.

"We've got a lot of firepower," said Wheatley (468-124 in 19 seasons). "We've got a lot of really good players, so it's just a matter of us getting the pieces of the puzzle to fit correctly together."

But from last week's preseason bonecrushers against two of the state's top programs -- Tampa Berkeley Prep and Fort Myers Evangelical Christian -- to the state-title prize dangling in Kissimmee on Nov. 14, he will remind you that it is all part of "a process."

"I have a strong passion for coaching volleyball, and I feel like I know the game like the back of my hand. But every year is a totally new dynamic."

Last season?

"That's in the past," Mattmuller says matter-of-factly. "We're focusing on this team. We're always saying, 'Don't look back.' Different team. Our record's zero-zero. We're even with everyone else right now."

Well ... not exactly.

Venice has logged 17 district, seven region and three state crowns since 1994, when Wheatley became the 11th head coach of the program.

"(Wheatley) has created a great model, the pre-eminent program in the area," said new Riverview coach Joe Rohr.

"They work extremely hard, Brian's well-organized and he's got a great support system around him. Once you get to a certain point, people want to go there, people want to play and they know what's expected of them when they go there.

"Since I've been here, (Venice) is all anyone has ever talked about."

Wheatley, ever the motivator, has made it so. Remember, for instance, the giant oar that players signed in 2005, signifying they were all aboard en route to the state title? He doesn't mince words, either -- the goal is victory.

"We put in so much time and work. We're in the weight room year- round, the kids are playing year-round," he said. "So when you're shaking hands with the other team, you might as well have won."

This group (six seniors, eight juniors, Richards and freshman Tanner Gauthier) seems tantalized by the possibilities.

"We're on the same track," Richards said, "but we're still working at being as good."

"We have a lot of potential," added Kabana, the team's tallest player at 6-1. "We have a lot of good hitters and a lot of extremely good passers. We're just putting it together, lineups and stuff, and getting ready for postseason. …

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