Sunset’s boys’ volleyball players delivered one powerful spike after another during Monday’s final preseason practice.
A year after reaching the state championship match for the first time in school history, the Knights appeared focused on earning another chance.
One vital player from last year’s historic season, senior Joe Gallardy, hasn’t been able to join practice these days.
Gallardy, the team’s starting middle blocker last season who was going to be the team manager this season, was seriously injured in a car accident two weeks ago and has been hospitalized ever since, first at Kendall Regional and later Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Since the accident, Gallardy has become the source of inspiration for his teammates.
“Everything we do this season is for Joe,” senior hitter Jose Morales said. “We’re close friends, and it’s been very hard not to see him here every day with us.”
Sunset coach Camilo Gaitan said the accident occurred Feb. 22 when Gallardy was in the back seat of a car with three others and the car swerved off the road and hit a tree.
Gaitan said Gallardy’s injuries initially forced doctors to put him in a medically induced coma, and that he sustained an injury to one of his vertebrae. Morales and his teammates have visited Gallardy at the hospital. He said Gallardy has since awoken briefly, but is still awaiting surgery for his back in the coming days.
Gallardy set a school-record last season for career block-assists with 69. Gallardy was ineligible to play this coming season because his high school eligibility had run out.
But Gallardy was helping in practice as a team manager. Gaitan was also helping Gallardy put together a highlight tape for colleges before the accident.
“The kids definitely have felt the loss,” Gaitan said. “It’s just tragic. He’s been a big part of our volleyball family, and we’re all hoping he gets healthy quickly.”
Morales said he and his teammates made a banner that reads “Get well soon” for Gallardy.
Each of them has signed it.
But after word got out at the school, several students gradually have come to offer support and have snuck in a signature on any empty space left on the sign.
“Joe hasn’t really been too awake when I’ve gone to see him, but a couple of times when other people have gone to see him he’s opened his eyes and given a ‘thumbs-up’ sign,” Morales said. “He’s on his way to recovery, and I know he’s going to be better soon. We want to show him we’re all thinking about him.”
Sunset’s players would love nothing more than to win a state title in Gallardy’s honor, and they’ll have a good chance to get another shot at it with three starters returning.
A deep team with talent at nearly every position led by 5-10 senior outside hitter Juan De La Hoz should challenge the state’s best.
Morales, a lefty 5-10 senior, will play opposite De La Hoz with a pair of 6-4 middle hitters Alex Lazo and Junior Franklin patrolling the net. Franklin is a great jumper, who Gaitan said can jump 11 feet, 3 inches.
Junior 5-10 hitter Josh Calderon, setter Everett Lafrance and sophomore libero Matthew Kanikis are also expected to contribute.
The Knights should challenge an improved Palmetto squad, Columbus, Southwest, Coral Reef and Florida Christian, which ranks among the top teams in the county.
Sunset also has former star and county Player of the Year Juan Ramirez, who was just chosen to the U.S. men’s national team as a starting libero, joining them this season as an assistant coach.
Morales’ wish is that the pieces come together by the end of the season in Kissimmee — site of the state tournament — in May, and that one of those is Gallardy’s return.
“Before we start every practice, we talk about it, and we think about him,” Morales said. “But we have to prioritize school and volleyball as have to keep it going for him.”