Local Sports

Panthers ready to rumble

— The South Florida State College volleyball team has been practicing for a while now and will finally get the opportunity to play somebody else when they travel to Warner University today for their first scrimmage match.

The players are excited and ready to play. The team gets together three times a day for practices that range from running, pool workouts, hit the weight room, or have ball practice. The Panthers are in the Suncoast Conference in Region 8, the Gulf Region.

The team has seven returning players, five of them being starters. The team has quite a few standouts. The freshmen coming in are outstanding leaders on the court. Overall every freshman has impressed the coaching staff with their leadership and court presence.

“The hay is in the barn,” said Panthers coach Kim Crawford. “We have the right tools, we have the right positions filled with the right people. I know we are all looking forward to a great season.”

Baylee Gunter and Kelsey Sanders will be setters. Breighly Bolton and Sydney Durhan will play opposite. Madison Bitton, Jasmine Kelley, and Brianne Ballow will be middle blockers. Elle Barnett Breauna Corley and Jada Spano will play in the outside hitter position. Darby Jones and Melanie Sandoval are defensive specialists.

“Everything is moving forward and falling into place,” Crawford said. “The first week was rough, you’re coming off of summer break, you get in the gym, your body gets sore and you kind of breakdown a little bit. Overall, practices are going well so far.”

There are a couple standout leaders on the team. Two freshman players have really stepped up and taken the leadership role. Barnett and Sanders both new to the team but they didn’t hold back and were not afraid to lead the team.

As usual, the Panthers will face some tough competition in the Suncoast Conference. Hillsborough Community College, last year’s conference champion, finished third in the nation and was undefeated in Suncoast play. The Hawks return just three players from last year, but have four incoming freshmen 6-feet or taller.

State College of Florida finished 5-3 in conference play and return a pair of 6-footers, while Polk State College also was 5-3 in Suncoast Conference play and see six returning players back. St. Petersburg College finished just 2-6 in conference play, but had nine freshmen on last year’s squad.

The Panthers are a cohesive unit and have some strong hitters and setters. The players work well together and are eager to get some matches under their belt.

“I feel great about this team,” Crawford said. “We have depth, we have chemistry. I’m excited.”

The Panthers’ first home match will be Thursday, Sept. 4, when they host Eastern Florida College. Conference play will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 23, when the Panthers host State College of Florida.

The Panthers will again host a two-day tournament, with this year’s edition taking place on Friday and Saturday Sept. 26 and 26.