Moving on to the next level

LAKE PLACID - Every Green Dragon has to leave the nest someday. And last week, it was Bella Carabello's time to soar, as the Lake Placid senior accepted a scholarship to play volleyball at Daytona State College this fall. "I'm moving on to the next level," Carabello said. "It's the next stage in my life, and it's a big deal that I'm going somewhere that's a new environment. But I know a couple of the girls there and I like the coach a lot." Recruited by Daytona State's Laura Stegall, a coach with a proven track record of building competitive volleyball programs at the collegiate level, Carabello said she's proud to be one of Stegall's newcomers.
"There were only two new recruits," she said. "I'm really honored to be one of only two freshmen coming in. And going into a roster with all sophomores, I'll definitely have to earn my position." One of the Dragons best hitters, Carabello's impressive play at the net this season helped Lake Placid to an overall record of 21-6, with the Dragons going a perfect 8-0 in district play, and the team reached the regional playoff round. Stegall kept up with Carabello's stats throughout the season and knows there's only a few things she needs to tweak in her game to be successful at the next level. "She's got a solid technique and she's a fine teammate," Stegall said. "But the college game is a big transition. The tempo is faster, the girls are bigger, the hitters are better. But she's faced some of that during her club ball days at Top Select, so what she'll really need to work on is getting in the weight room over the summer and getting stronger." Club volleyball is in part what helped Carabello develop as a player. "They have really great coaches there," said Carabello's mother, April Milicevic. "At that level, they're trying to get you to work on technique. They want to focus you on fundamentals and let you just play. "And after high school, this next level is going to be another transition." But there's more to college than just playing volleyball. As Carabello's former coach, Charlotte Bauder, can attest, being on your own can be a challenge as well. "It can be difficult at first," Bauder said. "There's definitely a bit of culture shock, especially in a bigger city like Daytona Beach." Carabello assured her coach and family that she's ready for the big city, though. "I'm definitely excited to get out of the rural area," she said. Bauder, who just concluded her first year as coach at Lake Placid, was in Carabello's shoes not too long ago. A standout for the Dragons, Bauder also continued her playing career in the college ranks. Carabello said that having a coach who knows what the recruiting process is like was extremely helpful. "She has just been amazing," Carabello added. "I can honestly say that this is the greatest coaching I've ever had in my life - from November to now. I only wish I was a junior so I could have another year with her and our team." It also helps that Daytona State has a sterling reputation for taking care of its athletes on and off the court. "We believe there's no reason that a student-athlete can't be successful in the classroom," Stegall said. "And that's one of the benefits of moving on to a junior college first. Not only are the class sizes less intimidating, but the student-to-teacher ratio is much better." The treatment of its student-athletes was another big plus for Carabello. "I know Coach Stegall really works hard with her girls," Carabello said. "Not just to make them better volleyball players, but to get them ready to move on and have an education to fall back on." A two-year program, most move on to a four-year institution after their stay at Daytona State. While Carabello said she's got her eye on some schools outside of Florida, Flagler College in St. Augustine has really caught her attention. "It's such a beautiful place," she said. "The campus is great and so is the city. And the volleyball program is usually pretty competitive." Daytona State isn't in the same conference as South Florida State, so the only way the two schools could play would be a purposeful scheduling or if the Falcons came down to play in one of the Panthers tournaments. Despite the distance, Carabello's parents are intent on seeing their daughter play in college. "We've been to Denver, to Dallas - we've been everywhere to see her play," Milicevic said. "We're not quite ready to give up on that yet." And neither is Bauder. "It stinks that the college and high school seasons coincide," Bauder said. "But I'll be keeping up with her, and so will the rest of the girls. I plan on taking them out to see her play." Dragons fans can see Carabello in action next August, when the Falcons volleyball team gets under way for the 2013-14 season.