In sports, athletes and the teams they represent often learn more about themselves following a loss rather than a victory. That is a lesson that the girls varsity volleyball team from the King’s Academy learned earlier this season.
Right now, the TKA girls varsity volleyball team (12-5) is riding a six-game winning streak. The most recent victory was a convincing 25-14, 25-20, 26-24 victory against Cardinal Newman High School on Tuesday, Sept. 19.
According to head coach Ashlei Furtado, the turning point of the season for TKA was its participation in the Nike Tournament of Champions over Labor Day weekend at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus near Tampa. During that tournament, TKA played six matches in two days against teams from Florida, Virginia, California and Nebraska. On Friday, Sept. 1, TKA lost all three matches, but on Saturday, Sept. 2, TKA rallied and won two out of its three matches.
By playing in this event, Furtado learned a great deal about her players, and the players bonded as one.
“The benefits of competing in that tournament included seeing where our team really stacked up against great competition and exposed some weaknesses that we must continue to work on,” Furtado said. “The coaching staff learned that the girls have the ability to play together, play with grit and determination, and compete together. We were able to do some team bonding activities in the hotel both nights, which helped with bringing more unity to the team.”
Of TKA’s 14 varsity players, there are four seniors, five juniors, three sophomores, one freshman and one seventh grader. The seventh grader is Mikayla Matuszko, who is 6-foot-2 and is playing a big role on the team.
“Mikayla is a starter for us,” Furtado said. “We are moving her around the front line from middle blocker to right side [hitter], as well. She is very versatile and has been an incredible addition to our team.”
This year’s three team captains are a trio of seniors: Sofia Aguilera, Katie Shelhamer and Devereaux Hoxsie. Each captain plays a different position and leads by example in both practice and games. Aguilera is a setter, Shelhamer is a libero and Hoxsie is an outside hitter.
“Devereaux is our captain in charge of the spiritual life of the team and program, Kate is in charge of communication, and Sofia is the court captain during games,” Furtado explained.
The three senior captains are being asked to lead by example in the locker room, during practices, on road trips and in games. At TKA, being a team captain on the girls volleyball team comes with responsibility.
“We have tasked them with bringing unity to the team and ensuring that everyone is a part. They are the go-between for the players and coaches,” Furtado said. “We are teaching them about Biblical servant-leadership. In many ways, when you get to be the seniors and leaders, everyone does everything for you. But we are teaching them a Biblical approach where they lead by example. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. In the locker room, they are leading by being the first there and the last to leave.”
For away games, there’s a greater burden on the shoulders of the senior captains. “On road trips, they are making sure the players have everything they need, have a place to sit and are generally taken care of,” Furtado said.
In many respects, practices and games are a reflection of a team’s true potential.
“In practice, they are to set the standard of what is expected,” Furtado said. “They must keep everyone focused and working hard. In games, they are the ones we expect to step up and lead the team, put the team on their backs by encouraging the players around them, staying positive, striving to be the best they can be and to provide an atmosphere where everyone knows their role on the team and buys into it.”
At TKA, every member of the team has a role to play during the season, whether starters, a key reserve off the bench or unable to play due to injury. While injured players are not playing, they remain with the team.
“Sidney Saltalamacchia, a junior pin hitter, went down with an ankle injury, which put her out for the season during the tournament outside Tampa. However, she continues to be a leader from the bench and has really been a huge part of the team’s success from her position there,” Furtado said. “Senior Amie Molina and junior Valeria Diaz stepped up to set recently when two of the starting seniors were out due to injury and sickness. They stepped up and helped the team to win two five-set wins against West Boca Raton High School and William T. Dwyer High School.”
One of the strengths of this year’s TKA girls volleyball team is its all-around depth. It has many players with a statistically strong season. For instance, Hoxsie is fourth in the state for kills with 199; junior Kelly Kinney is 20th in the state for kills with 153. Sophomore Isabella Pons leads the team in blocks with 43, which is 11th best in Florida. In digs, Shelhamer has the 10th most in the state with 213. Freshman Miranda Knoll averages 2.7 kills per set. As for service aces, the top three players for TKA this season are Kinney (16), Hoxsie (14) and sophomore Hunter Saltalamacchia (12).
The current regular season comes to a close on Thursday, Oct. 12 when TKA hosts the Pine Crest School from Fort Lauderdale. After that, it’s time for the postseason, which begins with the district tournament.
The ultimate goal is to advance to the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A title game. That game is scheduled for Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. on the campus of Polk State College in Winter Haven. If TKA truly learns more from its losses than its victories, don’t be surprised if the girls volleyball team comes home victorious.