Over the past five seasons, Pompano Beach’s volleyball team has become a playoff regular.
But the Tornadoes have lost each season in the regional semifinals, watching the teams they lost to either advance to state or win state titles.
It could be Pompano Beach’s turn to punch its ticket to state this season, however.
With six starters returning and the addition of a new setter, the Tornadoes appear to be Broward’s favorite to contend for a spot in Kissimmee in Class 5A, which would be a first for the school.
“This is one of the strongest teams I’ve ever had entering the season,” said Pompano Beach coach William Strachan, who is entering his sixth season as the Tornadoes coach.
And Strachan has had some good ones in recent years.
A tradition of players that developed their skills playing beach volleyball in the offseason, starting with the Pelitteri sisters — Stephanie and Nina (playing at FSU) and Brittany (playing at FAU) — and Savanah Davis (FIU) built, Pompano’s team into a contender.
Senior outside hitter Nikki Esposito is the latest in Pompano’s beach volleyball standouts. Esposito, 5-10, is one of the strongest hitters in Broward, already has committed to play for FSU according to Strachan, and was a first team All-County selection last year.
Pompano should also be one of the best teams in the county in terms of setting its attack.
Senior 5-10 setter Casey Calhoun returns to the starting lineup. Along with Esposito, Calhoun will be able to distribute the ball to Mercer University commit Paige Alsten, a 6-1 senior middle hitter.
The big addition — and likely most notable difference maker for the Tornadoes — is junior setter/outside hitter Cassidy Bonito, who transferred from West Broward. Bonito, a first team All-County selection last season, led the Bobcats to the Class 8A regional finals last season.
Victories against the county’s elite teams such as Cardinal Gibbons and St. Thomas Aquinas has eluded the Tornadoes in the past.
But this season, Pompano appears to be one of the top teams overall in the county and could prove it with a schedule that includes games against St. Thomas Aquinas, Cypress Bay, West Broward and Cardinal Gibbons. Pompano was eliminated in the regional semifinals last year by Gibbons.
St. Thomas Aquinas graduated Miami Herald Player of the Year Mackenzie Zielinski, but returns a loaded squad capable of returning to state in Class 7A.
Outside hitters Nikki Lyons and Kara Mason should make the Raiders lineup formidable again. Junior libero Kaylie McHugh is one of the best in the county at her position.
Cypress Bay returns a squad led mostly by a strong core of sophomores that will be among the county’s best in Class 8A.
Coming off a regional finals appearance in Class 4A, Chaminade-Madonna returns a deep squad that should battle defending state champion Miami Ransom Everglades once again.
Sept. 12-13: Orlando OVA Invitational
Sept. 19-20: Berkeley Prep Invitational
Sept. 19-20: East Coast Challenge
Oct. 3-4 Chaminade Invitational
Oct. 17-18: Smoothie King Invitational
Oct. 18: BCAA championship
Oct. 20-24: District playoffs
Oct. 28-29: Regional quarterfinals
Nov. 4: Regional semifinals
Nov. 8: Regional finals
Nov. 11-15: State final four in Kissimmee
2013 STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 8A: Winter Park; 7A: Oviedo; 6A: Ocala Vanguard; 5A: Orlando Bishop Moore; 4A: Miami Ransom Everglades; 3A: Miami Westminster Christian; 2A: Naples Seacrest Country Day; 1A: Sneads.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OH Sydney Armbrister, Chaminade-Madonna, So.
OH Kimeko Bennett, Chaminade-Madonna, Sr.
OH Cassidy Bonito, Pompano Beach, Jr.
S Casey Calhoun, Pompano Beach, Sr.
OH Nikki Esposito, Pompano Beach, Sr.
OH Jacqui Koebel, Chaminade-Madonna, Sr.
OH Nikki Lyons, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.
L Kaylie McHugh, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr.
L Sarah Martin, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr.
L Savannah Stones, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.
TEAM OUTLOOKS – CLASS 8A
CYPRESS BAY (Coach Jen Meyer). Last year: Regional finalist. Top players: Priscila Ertty, Sr.; Rachael Tomasiello, Sr.; Cassidy Fisher, Jr.; Tori Reiser, Jr.
PIPER (Coach A. McKinney, 1st year). Last year: N/A. Top players: MH Mia Todd, 5-2, Sr.; L Rachelle Castillo, 5-3, Sr.; MH Mikailah Whittingham, 6-1, Sr.; OH Sarah Lee, 5-7, Sr.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Lisa Zielinski, 27th year at STA, 29th overall, 702-147). Last year: 28-3 (State semifinalist). Top players: OH Nikki Lyons, 6-2, Sr.; OH Kara Mason, 5-10, Sr.; L Kaylie McHugh, 5-3, Jr.; OH-MH Allison Marble, 6-0, So.; OH Brooke Bauer, 6-0, So.; MH Emma Dixon, 6-0, So.
MONARCH (Coach Walt Drexl, 4th year, 49-22). Last year: 19-6 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: S-OH Kaitlin Grote, 5-9, Sr.; DS Dalana Adams, 5-7, Sr.; OH Kayla Schmitz, 5-9, So.; OH Jada Small, 5-9, So.; MH Alejandra Sanabria, 6-0, Sr.
AMERICAN HERITAGE (Coach Lori Rembe, 11th year). Last year: 11-13. Top players: MH Laura Perez, So.; OH Lucila Grinspan, So.; MH Jenna Amaro, 7th; OH Beatrice Rodewald, Jr.; S Ahnie Jumper, So.; L-DS Isabel Acosta, So.; DS-L Carolyn Deeb, Sr.
ARCHBISHOP MCCARTHY (Coach Karen Frank, 17th year). Last year: 14-10. Top players: MH-OH Katie McInnis, 5-9, Sr.; OH Brooke Wilder, 5-6, Sr.; DS Bea Zanotti, 5-5, Sr.; L Valentina Caicedo, 5-4, So.; OH Lauren Bandera, 5-6, Fr.
CARDINAL GIBBONS (Coach Kathryn Farland). Last year: Regional finalist. Top players: L Savannah Stones, Sr.; L Sarah Martin, Jr.
POMPANO BEACH (Coach William Strachan, 7th year, 116-32). Last year: 22-6 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: S Casey Calhoun, 5-10, Sr.; MH Paige Alsten, 6-1, Sr.; OH Nikki Esposito, 5-10, Sr.; S-OH Cassidy Bonito, 5-10, Jr.; OH Tara Brennan, 5-10, Jr.; DS Cori Smothers, 5-4, Jr.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN (Coach Dean Barboza, 3rd year at CC, 7th overall, 99-26). Last year: 18-6. Top players: OH Nicole Decker, 5-11, So.; OH Raegan Terranova, 5-8, Sr.; MH-OH Haley Batchelor, 5-10, Jr.; S Jesse Underwood, 5-9, So.; L Marielle Diaz, 5-4, So.
CHAMINADE-MADONNA (Coach Jason Johnson, 15th year, 199-129). Last year: 18-13 (Regional finalist). Top players: MH Sydney Armbrister, 5-10, Sr.; OH Jacqui Koebel, 5-9, Sr.; OH Kimeko Bennett, 6-0, Sr.; OH-MH Sierra Perry, 5-10, Sr.; DS Alexandria Hawkins, 5-6, Sr.; S Jackie Yao, 5-8, Sr.
NORTH BROWARD PREP (Coach Austin Clubb, 1st year at NBP, 8th overall). Last year: N/A. Top players: MH-OH Taylor Lambert, 5-8, So.; OH Jordyn Walker, 5-9, Jr.; OH Hannah Chaplik, 5-6, Sr.; OH Emily Miller, 5-7, Jr.
SAGEMONT (Coach Shane Marcey, 5th year at SA, 9th overall, 116-100). Last year: 15-12 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: OH Megan Bodden, 5-7, Sr.; OH-MH Brooklynne Villano, 5-9, So.; S Nikki Rodriguez, 5-4, Jr.; OH Zoe Fineberg, 5-9, So.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY (Coach Lanae Robinson, 1st year at WA, 3rd overall, 23-7). Last year: 7-9. Top players: S Jenna Boland, So.; OH Gillianna Kalb, So.; OH Glynnis Carlson, So.; S Katie Ferraguti, Jr.
HOLLYWOOD CHRISTIAN (Coach Joseph Hernandez, 3rd year, 11-28). Last year: 9-14. Top players: OH-MH Celeste Grimmett, Jr.; OH-MH Shae Pierce, So.; S Amber Smith, So.; OH-MH Emily Harrigan, Jr.
POSNACK (Coach Reynaldo Rivero, 1st year at POS, 5th overall). Last year: N/A. Top players: Lindsay Salzman, Jr.; Shelly Massre, Jr.; Julie Rosner, Jr.; Karen Lapscher, Sr.