Shayna Munson was determined to do it her way. The only problem was the Hudson volleyball team, steeped in tradition created by a coach who had stepped down months earlier, was used to doing things differently.
That didn't matter to Munson, a professional volleyball player who immediately gained the respect of her players and used that to mold the kind of team she wanted. After a stellar regular season, the Cobras marched into the postseason in November and made it to the Class 4A state final four, losing in the semifinals to Jensen Beach.
It was the farthest Hudson had advanced in the playoffs since losing the 2000 Class 4A final to Clearwater under Linda McQuade.
"When Coach Munson first came in, she had to basically brainwash us and reteach us everything we already knew from Coach McQuade," senior Jessica Imbimbo said. "Not that what Coach McQuade was teaching us was bad, but we wanted to use (Munson's) technique and the way she wanted us to play."
Hudson, the District 7 champion, beat Zephyrhills 25-14, 25-12, 25-20; Nature Coast 25-20, 25-22, 20-25, 16-25, 15-6; and Ocala Vanguard 25-22, 17-25, 23-25, 25-17, 15-9 before losing to eventual state champion Jensen Beach 25-14, 25-19, 25-15.
"I told them there was nothing to be ashamed of," Munson said after the loss. "We wanted to win, but on the other side of the coin, we are winners just by being here."
Hudson wasn't the only volleyball team making history in Pasco County. The Saint Leo University women's team came within a victory of reaching the Division II national tournament, capping the Lions' first 30-win season.
After winning the school's first Sunshine State Conference volleyball title, Saint Leo earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA II South Regional in Tampa. The Lions beat North Alabama and West Florida to make the final, before losing in three sets to top-seeded Tampa. They had split two meetings with the Spartans in the regular season.
Swimming, cross country, golf in state
While all three Pasco County football playoff teams made quick exits, athletes in cross country and golf joined Hudson volleyball in making state tournament appearances.
Mitchell swimmer Devin McCaffrey finished second in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke, leading the Mustangs to a 12th-place finish at state.
Land O' Lakes senior Matt Schwartz finished 11th at the Class 3A boys cross country meet at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. The Wiregrass Ranch boys team was sixth overall, led by Ryan Pulsifer, who finished 26th individually. In the 3A girls meet, Bulls freshman Nikita Shah finished 17th, while Mitchell's Kelli Williams was 23rd.
The Mitchell girls golf team finished seventh in the 2A championships, led by senior Megan Van Etten, who shot 152 (79-73) in the 36-hole event, good for 16th individually.
With a simple posting on the Florida High School Athletic Association Web site, it became clear that the greatest fear Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare had about his future as a football coach would be realized.
Castelamare, who years earlier had opted into the Deferred Retirement Option Program that claimed the teaching career of another longtime football coach, Land O' Lakes' John Benedetto, became the latest victim of the plan. School officials met with him and told him he would not be retained.
Castelamare, 60, is the only football coach in Wesley Chapel's 11-year history, and he won 63 games at the school.
The DROP program allowed longtime teachers to receive increased pay at the risk of losing their job after five years in the program. But for years, teachers entered the program, were given extensions and kept their jobs longer than the five years because of a teacher shortage.
The economic downturn and tightened budget within the county school system changed that trend, however, and the departure of many of these teachers came as a shock. But after seeing many of his contemporaries lose their jobs that way, Castelamare was ready for the worst.
"You kind of know the situation you're in, and through this whole thing I was just hoping the economy would get better this year and maybe this would pass," said Castelamare, who also coached 12 seasons (1985-96) at Ridgewood. "But it came to reality and what are you going to do? I still want to coach, and hopefully something's out there because I still have a lot of years left in me. I just hope something's out there and there's the possibility of continuing."
Land O' Lakes basketball coach Dave Puhalski won his 300th career game Dec. 18, a 60-36 victory against Citrus High.
The 21-year coaching veteran has endured one of his toughest seasons so far, however. His team started 2-6, with four of the losses by five points or fewer, including a one-point defeat to first-year Anclote.
Wynn makes his commitment
Quarterback Zack Wynn positioned himself to become the first Hudson player to sign a scholarship with a Division I-A school.
Wynn, a 7,000-yard career passer who led the Cobras to the playoffs in 2007 and this season, received an offer from Western Michigan and made a verbal commitment Dec. 17 after an official visit.
Compiled by Bart O'Connell