You can’t judge a book by its cover, and this old saying applies to this fall’s girls varsity volleyball team from the King’s Academy.
After the first eight games of the new season, the team’s current record is a rather dismal 3-5. But, according to TKA head volleyball coach Sam Skelton, the team’s five losses were against strong, upper-level programs that the squad played at the Tournament of Champions in Tampa over Labor Day weekend.
Skelton said that the purpose of playing in that elite competition was to highlight the team’s weaknesses so that those deficiencies can be corrected throughout the season.
“I intentionally placed us in the most competitive bracket of the tournament to test us,” Skelton explained.
After opening the regular season in late August with a pair of victories against the Lourdes Academy from Miami and Jupiter Christian, the TKA Lions traveled to Tampa for six matches in two days against strong, competitive programs. Because it was a multi-team tournament, the winner of every match was the first team to win two out of three sets. The Lions entered the tournament with a 2-0 record, but returned home 3-5.
“Those tough opponents were exactly what we needed,” Skelton said.
The first of those six matches was against Skutt Catholic, a powerhouse program and multi-time state champion from Omaha, Nebraska. TKA won the second set, but lost the third set, 15-7. In the second match, TKA fell in two sets to Calvary Christian from Clearwater, the reigning Class 3A Florida state champion. In their third match against Pensacola Catholic, the Lions were defeated again, but had a better effort, losing the third set 19-17 in a back-and-forth final.
On day two of the tournament, TKA played Mountain Brook High School from Alabama and two Florida schools, George Steinbrenner High School from Tampa and Windermere High School. TKA lost to Mountain Brook and Windemere, but they defeated Steinbrenner.
“Our performances in Tampa were a good gauge for what we need to work on, strengthen, fix and change,” Skelton said. “It was a good experience for my team. While in Tampa, we bonded as a team. I have a great group of young ladies this year.”
Skelton’s team consists of 11 players — five seniors (Elizabeth Terceira, Jordan Race, Gina Shalloway, Sarah Stark and Emily Caputo), four juniors (Sofia Aguilera, Katie Shelhamer, Vera Arnetoli and Devereaux Hoxsie), and two sophomores (Kelly Kinney and Sidney Saltalamacchia).
Statistically, Kinney and Hoxsie are leading the team in kills and kills per set, while Kinney’s hitting percentage is an impressive 42.4 percent.
“Both Kelly and Devereaux my key pins along the net,” Skelton said. “They are our top two outside hitters. Both are getting looks from NCAA Division I volleyball programs. I’m pushing them to think and play like college players.”
Skelton is confident that both girls will respond with stronger play on the court throughout the remainder of the season.
Skelton is also expecting strong on-the-court leadership and play from Aguilera and Shelhamer. Aguilera is leading the team in serving aces and assists, while Shelhamer is the team leader in digs and digs per set.
“Sofia is a talented setter, and Katie is stepping up as our libero,” Skelton said.
While Skelton is the new head coach for TKA’s girls varsity volleyball team, he’s not new to coaching volleyball.
“I’ve been coaching volleyball for nearly 30 years,” said Skelton, whose coaching experience started at Liberty University in Virginia.
In Florida, he has coached girls volleyball at the high school level at Lake Worth Christian School, Jupiter Christian School and Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale. He also had a stint coaching boys volleyball at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton.
At the collegiate level in Florida, he started the women’s volleyball program at Palm Beach State College, where he coached for more than 15 years. Just recently, he was the head coach of the women’s volleyball program at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens. At each school, he left the program in better shape than he inherited it.
He has a big-picture mindset when it comes to coaching volleyball.
“Volleyball is my mission field,” Skelton said. “I have a strong faith-based program. I want to help these young ladies at King’s grow in the Lord and grow in the sport. We have lots of team-bonding activities, which help us grow as a team and play better together on the volleyball court.”
Skelton has been successful at every one of his previous volleyball coaching posts, and there’s no reason why TKA’s program won’t continue to improve under Skelton’s watch for the balance of the season.