Published: August 23, 2006
A plastic sign hangs from the suspendhed track railing in the Milton L.I.F.E. Center. “Commitment to one another,” it says in bold blue letters.
Beneath the sign, the PJC volleyball team practices with all the intensity of a conference game. After a botched play, Coach Pete Pena gently reminds one player to honor that commitment – “That’s alright, we’ll play around you,” he says with mild sarcasm.
She smiles sheepishly. Point taken.
In volleyball, a well-coordinated team effort is more effective than that of individual accomplishments. Experience and commitment are essential to molding a winning team.
This year’s PJC volleyball team has both experience and allegiance to the program. Seven of 10 of last year’s freshman return for a second year, with state tournament action listed on their resumes.
“It’s really great to finally have seven that understand what you need and what you are asking for right from the beginning, but also understand the level of play that it takes, the intensity level,” Pena said.
Last year’s young team, with just three sophomores, advanced to the state championship series with a win in the final game of the season against Gulf Coast Community College. Although they were eliminated in the first two games in the state tournament, they finished the season a respectable 13-9.
Returning players include Alysia Girod and Margo Yates, who both were selected to the all-tournament team. Both know that with experience come more expectations.
“We have a lot of experience and the team has really clicked. It gets rid of a lot of nervousness,” Yates said. “Our practices are really intense. We try to make practice seem like a game.”
Players seem to flourish through the training techniques of the four-time Panhandle Conference coach of the year.
“Coach Pena pushes us,” Girod said. “He lets us know how to improve.”
Although the roster is packed with experienced players, Pena is careful not to single out a single leader.
“The strength of our team is our team,” he said. “We have seven sophomores who supply us every single day with outstanding leadership. How well they play together, how unselfish they are.they are absolutely a joy to be around and a great example.”
Nor are an individual player’s statistics an indicator of a successful season to Pena.
“I think a better season individually doesn’t necessarily mean a better season for PJC volleyball,” he said. “We don’t talk in terms of numbers. We talk about what we can do to be a better team every day and everything else takes care of itself.”
A return to the state championship certainly is on the minds of the team, but Pena is careful in his predictions.
“I predict that we’re going to play very, very hard every night. I predict that we’re going to play together every night, and I predict that when it’s all said and done, we’ll all be very proud of one another.”