Accustomed to soaring into the air to block opposing spike attempts, Maddie Fowler spends a good time during practice rolling on the floor.
In a seemingly permanent playful mode, the long-limbed senior jokes around the wooden court, as her teammates prepare for a shoot around, or collect themselves during the break.
Her high spirit is contagious, and just as fundamental as she is when she turns it on. At 6-3, she can be particularly imposing after the whistle.
The tallest player in a team of above-average sizes, Fowler is one of six seniors in this year’s Pine Crest girls’ Volleyball team, and the most important player in the squad. The middle hitter is not only Pine Crest’s strongest blocker on defense, but its main attacking option.
“A standout like her gives a lot of stability, knowing that we have such a player for the big points,” said coach Albert Sturgeon. Currently in his 9th year at the helm of the girls’ volleyball program, he sees winning the district title as a realistic goal. Amid conversations of a possible merger of classes in the next season — which would put schools of widely varied attendance facing off each other — Sturgeon believes this could be their last chance.
“States is also a true opportunity, and it can happen this year, that we have a lot of seniors,” he said.
Last season, they reached the semifinals in the 5A class. Pine Crest last won a state championship in 2003, capping a three-peat run that year.
A volleyball player only during his junior year at high school, back in the day at Miami Sunset, Sturgeon picked up coaching immediately after. In the 18 years since, he has learned, for example, that Florida high school teams achieve the much sought-after leap of quality by competing outside of the state.
Pine Crest’s outing happened last weekend at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Arizona. Although the team went 2-4 against team from California, Oregon and Arizona, Sturgeon sees individual and collective progress.
“We’re not going to see that competition around here,” he said. “If we played against those teams, there’s no reason we should fear the teams around here.”
Competitive behind her springy demeanor, Fowler is more apprehensive when talking about the trip.
“Here [in state] it is easy to sit back, but in Arizona there were so many good players, good teams picking up at our weak spots,” she remembered.
With mid-October district tournaments fast approaching, it is time for corrections and changes. And as they begin their workouts, their focus changes: it is time to get serious.
More teams to watch
▪ Coral Springs Charter: The Panthers are a perfect 15-0 and 5-0 in district play as they attempt to make a run in Class 5A. Adriana Bravo, Ashley Guerrero, Dloren De Jesus and Jordan Mills lead the squad.
▪ Ferguson: The Falcons, led by three-time Miami Herald first-team all-county setter Melanie Cuervo, are 15-4 and 4-1 in district competition. Ferguson is hoping to make another state title run after missing the playoffs last year.
▪ Southwest: The Eagles, coming off a state semifinal last year, are poised to make another run in Class 9A. They are 11-1 on the year thus far, with their lone loss coming in district play against Ferguson. Hitters Mai-Lani Hernandez and Maria Rodriguez lead the charge on offense.