As a freshman, outside hitter Devin Decker started his high school career by leading a district championship season for the Palmetto boys’ volleyball team.
Four years later, Decker and the Panthers want more.
With a squad returning six starters, Palmetto has its best chance to make a run at a state championship since its lone tournament appearance in 2011.
“We believe we are legit state title contenders this season,” said Palmetto coach Chris Kallinosis, a Panthers alum who coached them to that state Final Four season. “We have Devin, who I believe is the best player in the county, and a great group around him. Most of them are seniors, so they know this is their last shot.”
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Decker, who is drawing interest from a few Division I schools, has totaled 703 kills, 278 digs and 198 blocks during his three seasons with Palmetto.
The Panthers, who are 3-0 so far on the young season, also have seniors Thomas Latimer, a 5-9 setter; Joey Sensale, a 6-2 outside hitter; and Julian Hunt, a 6-7 middle blocker among their top returning players.
With solid height and skill, Palmetto appears to have what it needs to reach this year’s state tournament scheduled for May 8-9 at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale. But Kallinosis is the first who will acknowledge the difficult road the Panthers must survive to get there.
Longtime rival Miami Killian returns most of the squad that reached the state quarterfinals last season led by 5-10 junior setter Jason Harris and 6-3 middle blocker Damian Horton.
Southwest Miami, still Miami-Dade County’s only state champion in the sport, has to be considered among South Florida’s elite, with a tough squad led by senior outside hitter Danny Sainz.
Others, such as Ransom Everglades — which advanced to state last season for the first time — Columbus, Sunset and Mourning hope to reload and compete for a spot. A couple of improved teams such as Miami High and St. Brendan are hoping to make a splash.
If Broward County is to produce any representatives at the state tournament this season, the likeliest candidates should be Archbishop McCarthy and Cardinal Gibbons.
McCarthy returns six starters led by 6-4 senior middle hitter David Maniglia and a pair of 5-10 juniors in Michael Moreiras and Luis Vazquez. Moreiras is one of the county’s best outside hitters, and Vazquez has excelled at the libero position.
Gibbons will be led by 6-4 senior outside hitter Corry Short, one of the top players overall in the state.
South Florida season overview
Monday: Season began.
March 13-14: SLAM Charter Invitational
March 20-21: Jungle Queen Invitational
April 10-11: Smoothie King Invitational at Ransom
April 21: GMAC tournament
April 27-May 2: Districts
May 5: State play-in round
May 8-9: State tournament at Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest
2014 STATE CHAMPION
Tampa Berkeley Prep
PAST SOUTH FLORIDA CHAMPIONS
Southwest Miami (2003, 2008); Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons (2005).
PRESEASON TOP 10
4. Archbishop McCarthy
5. Cardinal Gibbons
9. Miami High
10. St. Brendan
Under consideration: South Broward, Douglas, Chaminade-Madonna.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
OH Peter Cancio, Columbus, 6-0, Sr.
OH-S Michael Colonna, Ransom, 6-5, So.
OH Devin Decker, Palmetto, 6-4, Sr.
S Jason Harris, Killian, 5-10, Jr.
OH-S Brent Holcombe, Coral Reef, 6-7, So.
MH Damian Horton, Killian, 6-2, Sr.
S Thomas Latimer, Palmetto, 5-9, Sr.
MH David Maniglia, Archbishop McCarthy, 6-4, Sr.
OH Manuel Melenciano, Miami High, 5-11, Sr.
OH Michael Moreiras, Archbishop McCarthy, 5-10, Jr.
OH Danny Sainz, Southwest, 6-0, Sr.
OH Corry Short, Cardinal Gibbons, 6-4, Sr.
OH Tyler Smith, Douglas, 6-3, Sr.
LIB Luis Vazquez, Archbishop McCarthy, 5-10, Jr.
OTHERS TO WATCH
OH Nick Cobb, Ransom, 6-1, Jr.; OH Steven Garay, South Broward, 5-9, Sr.; S Jake Leventhal, Cardinal Gibbons, Sr.; LIB Ignacio Gonzalez, Columbus, 5-8, Sr.; MH-OH Jose Martinez, Killian, 6-2, Sr.; OH Jahn Lozada, St. Brendan, 6-4, Sr.
MIAMI-DADE TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
COLUMBUS (Coach Greg Villareal, 5th year, 80-27). Last year: 13-10. Top players: OH Peter Cancio, 6-0, Sr.; OH Nicholas Diaz, 6-4, Sr.; LIB-DS Ignacio Gonzalez, 5-8, Sr.; MH-OH Patrick Gatcliff, 6-3, Jr.; MH Guillermo Brito, 6-2, Sr.; S Gabriel Campo, 5-9, Jr.
CORAL PARK (Coach Kristina Diaz, 2nd year at CP, 4th overall, 27-33). Last year: 8-17. Top players: OH Andrew Gonzalez, 5-9, Sr.; S Chris Jimenez, 5-7, Sr.
CORAL REEF (Coach Yasmin Ortiz, 8th year, 210-118). Last year: 12-11. Top players: OH-S Brent Holcombe, 6-7, So.; OH Horacio Ruiz-Lugo, 5-11, Jr.; OH Andrew Arabitg, 6-5, So.
HEBREW ACADEMY (Coach 3rd year, 20-26). Last year: 4-8. Top players: OH Michael Fedida, 5-11, Jr.; OH Yosif Hodaner, 6-3, Sr.; S Max Del-Giglio, 5-10, Jr.; MH Daniel Ben-Auner, 6-0, Jr.; MH Ahron Divoli, 5-6, Sr.
HIALEAH GARDENS (Coach Karina Borge, 6th year at HG, 11th overall). Top players: Christian Alvarez, S Enel Gomez, 5-9; M Xebastian Aguilar, 6-2.
HIALEAH-MIAMI LAKES (Coach Alex Plaza, 17th year, 374-176). Last year: 13-8. Top players: MH Andrew Uria, 6-1, So.; DS Ariel Centurion, 5-6, So.; MH Christophe Perdomo, 6-3, Jr.; S Diego Vega, 5-7, Sr.; OH Kenneth Cardona, 5-7, Sr.
KILLIAN (Coach Clinton Reid, 15th year at KIL, 20th overall). Last year: 23-5 (State quarterfinalist). Top players: S-OH Jason Harris, 5-10, Jr.; MH Damian Horton, 6-3, Sr.; MH-OH Jose Martinez, 6-2, Sr.; OH Christopher Barut, 5-7, Jr.; LIB Gabe Lazarre, 5-3, Sr.; OH-S Christopher Hallstrand, 6-1, So.
LA SALLE (Coach Odette Partridge, 1st year). Last year: 4-10. Top players: OH Andres Saladrigas, 6-0, Sr.; OH Josten Borgella, 6-0, Jr.; OH Marcus Gordon, 5-10, So.; S Nicholas Doimeadios, So.; MH David Page, Sr.; MH Derek Bernabeu, Fr.
MIAMI HIGH (Coach Jose Garcia, 4th year, 53-12). Last year: 21-5 (Round of 16). Top players: OH Manuel Melenciano, 5-11, Sr.; S Demitrius Maloney, 5-10, Sr.; MH Eduar Matute, 6-1, Sr.; MH Malek Brouri, 5-9, Sr.; LIB Rafael Cabanzon, 5-8, Sr.; OH Arthur Henry, 6-3, Sr.
MOURNING (Coach Dee Rey, 8th year at ATM, 13th overall). Last year: State semifinalist. Top players: S-DS Erick Nascimento, 5-11, Sr.; OH Nico Triana, 6-1, Sr.; LIB Riain Festge, 5-11, So.
PALMETTO (Coach Chris Kallinosis, 5th year). Top players: OH Devin Decker, 6-4, Sr.; S Thomas Latimer, 5-9, Sr.; OH Joey Sensale, 6-2, Sr.; MH Julian Hunt, 6-7, Sr.; OH Nick Vacarro, 6-0, Sr.; LIB Luke Lee, 5-9, Sr.
RANSOM EVERGLADES (Coach Roger Peluso, 16th year at RE, 26th overall). Last year: 25-4 (State quarterfinalist). Top players: OH-S Michael Colonna, 6-5, So.; OH Nick Cobb, 6-1, Jr.; MH A.J. Spiegelman, 6-1, Sr.; MH-OH David Snitcovsky, 6-2, Jr.; LIB Matt Deutch, 5-9, Sr.; S Dickson Lee, 5-9, Sr.
ST. BRENDAN (Coach Emilio Urgell, 1st year). Top players: OH Jahn Lozada, 6-4, Sr.; OH Luis Kannee, 6-2, So.; S Marc Diaz, 5-10, So.; MH Jorge Gonzalez, 6-3, So.; LIB Antonhy Nunez, 5-8, Sr.; MH Jonah Sanchez, 6-2, Jr.
SLAM CHARTER (Coach Alfonso Alvarez, 2nd year, 16th overall). Last year: 4-18. Top players: OH Adrian Potts, 5-10, Sr.; MH Tommie Young III, 6-0, Sr.; S A.J. Alvarez, 5-8, Fr.; MH Charles West, 5-9, Sr.
SOUTHWEST – Top players: OH Danny Sainz, Southwest, 6-0, Sr.
WESTLAND HIALEAH (Coach Sam Watts, 2nd year, 10-4). Last year: 10-4. Top players: MH Eber Sanchez, 6-3, Sr.; OH Javier Delgado, 5-10, Sr.; S Pedro Martinez, 5-9, Jr.; OH Adrian Rodriguez, 5-11, Jr.; OH Angel Milian, 5-10, Sr.; DS Ariel Caneda, 5-8, Sr.
BROWARD DADE TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
AMERICAN HERITAGE (Coach Lori Rembe). Last year: 7-4. Top players: MH-OH Tyler Gordon, 6-2, Sr.
ARCHBISHOP MCCARTHY (Coach Karen Frank, 15th year). Last year: 14-6 (Round of 16). Top players: OH Michael Moreiras, 5-10, Jr.; MH-OH David Maniglia, 6-4, Sr.; LIB-S Luis Vazquez, 5-10, Jr.; MH Nick Covone, 6-4, Sr.; OH Luis Sanchez, 6-0, Jr.; OH Christian Amortegui, 6-2, Sr.
MCARTHUR (Coach Ray Lockhart, 17th year, 194-98). Last year: 16-4 (Round of 16). Top players: OH Felix Rivera-Vega, 6-6, Sr.; MH Fernando Bucla, 6-6, Sr.; DS Jose Acosta, 6-0, Sr.
MONARCH (Coach Walt Drexl, 10th year at Mon, 16th overall, 169-146). Last year: 16-7 (District runner-up). Top players: S Sean Drexl, 5-8, So.; OH Tyler Johnson, 6-0, Sr.; MB Gabe Mohammed, 6-8, Sr.; OH Ryan Clark, 6-3, Sr.; OH Leo Ferguson, 6-0, Sr.; OH Luiz Padredi, 6-2, Jr.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS (Coach Eric Wurts, 7th year at STA, 14th overall, 198-71). Last year: 22-4 (State semifinalist). Top players: MH Daniel Alex, 6-1, Sr.; OH Dennis Tariche, 5-7, Sr.; OH Jed Rojas, 5-10, Sr.; OH Nicholas Hernandez, 5-11, Jr.; OH Tyler Thomas, 5-11, So.; S Evan Wurts, 5-6, So.
SOUTH PLANTATION (Coach Audie Lam, 2nd year at SP, 3rd overall, 7-22). Last year: 0-12. Top players: MB Trey Hardy, 5-9, Jr.; S Paul Nikrooge-Asli, 5-9, Sr.; OH Brandon Becker, 5-7, Sr.; LIB David Camacho, 5-6, Sr.; DS Tyler Rodriguez, 5-5, Sr.; MB Joseph Chishom, 5-10, Sr.