For the first hour of each practice, the Cypress Bay volleyball team is on its own.
Under the direction of captains Cristina Finan and Rachel Rivera, the players go through drills focused, even though they know their coach, Chris Guerra, hardly has a chance to watch them.
Guerra is the coach of the varsity and junior varsity teams. He has no assistants and starts the varsity practice as soon as he is done with the junior varsity team, trusting Finan and Rivera to warmup the team.
But this unconventional practice method has hardly hurt the Lightning’s performance this year. In fact, Cypress Bay is off to its best start in recent memory, having gone 9-0 so far.
“It’s just me running both teams,” said Guerra, who is in his first year as the varsity coach. “I don’t use that as an excuse. I use that as motivation to work hard. It’s tough running back-to-back practices, but thank God I have these girls. They know what they’re doing.”
Guerra pointed to the team’s Sept. 7 match on the road against division rival West Broward to illustrate the maturity of his squad.
Having already lost the first game by a large margin, the Lightning trailed in the second game as well.
“I stepped back from the team,” Guerra said. “I wanted to let them handle it. It was a strategy that I’ve been shown by other coaches in my life. I stood back, I let them handle it by themselves and then something happened. They won the game and won the match in five. The chemistry started clicking ever since.”
That is not to say that Guerra always takes such a passive approach.
Guerra, a 26-year-old, has taught his team to play a style that relies on defense rather than height. It was a style that the 5-9 Guerra used when he played at Warner University and was the shortest player on the court by eight inches.
The Lightning is often at a height disadvantage against opponents.
“We’re very scrappy and we always pick up a lot of balls,” said Rivera, the only 6-foot player on the team.
Already they have used their strengths to avenge last year’s losses.
In 2011, Cypress Bay won two-thirds of its matches, but could never defeat Western, falling to the Wildcats three times, including in the district finals.
This year, the Lightning won both matches against Western, including a 3-0 win at Western in front of packed gym.
“It was huge,” Finan said. “The crowd was so loud on both sides. Everybody came.”
Having shown that they can get past the Wildcats, Guerra and his players have high expectations for the rest of the season.
“Our confidence is at an all-time high,” Guerra said. “We want to go past regionals. We want to get to states. We believe that we can actually win states. They’re willing to work hard, they’re willing to sacrifice. That’s just a blessing for a coach.”