NEW PORT RICHEY — Winning big is expected for the Pasco-Hernando Community College volleyball team.
The Conquistadors have averaged more than 29 victories a season since 2000, captured two regional titles in the last three years and claimed the 2010 National Junior College Athletics Association Division II championship. And even though coach Kim Whitney tries to leave prior seasons in the past, there’s no hiding what past PHCC squads have done.
“The national championship banner is hanging right there in our gym,” said Whitney, who is entering her 10th season. “I think they always think of what other teams have done here, but we’re starting with the basics like we do every year, which is just getting the girls to know each other and where to utilize everyone.
“You can have a lot of talent, but if they don’t work well together you can’t be successful,” Whitney added. “Right now, and knock on wood, they seem to really get along.”
That task is made easier this season as the Conquistadors return nine players from last year’s squad that went 20-14 before falling in five sets in the regional final. They also add six freshmen.
“I think having so many returners is going to help us early because I know how the setters like the passes and they know how the hitters want to be set,” sophomore libero Jessica Amador said. “A big goal is to find that same chemistry with the new players, become closer as a team and then set the goal of winning regionals.”
One of the newcomers has first-hand knowledge of PHCC at its peak.
Freshman defensive specialist Toni Imbimbo, a Fivay High graduate, watched her sister, Jessica, win a national championship and said the this squad can make a deep playoff run.
“Even though we just started practicing, we’ve just clicked,” Imbimbo said. “It’s really amazing how fast we’ve come together.”
Imbimbo said she didn’t want to follow in her sister’s footsteps at first.
“I thought I’d go somewhere else because I was getting recruited by other schools, but coach Whitney is such a good coach I just had to come here,” Imbimbo said. “It’s weird because she’s hard on you, but you don’t feel a whole lot of pressure from her. She makes sure you know what she wants, and it makes you a better volleyball player and person.”
Whitney said there’s no single method she uses to get the most out of her players, but the most important method is instilling an aura of competition.
“Everyone comes in knowing that no one is guaranteed a spot,” Whitney said. “Freshmen can start just as easily as players who were here all last year and in the spring. Best players play. It’s a brand new start, and they compete weekly. Having that edge of always having to battle for a position is really key to not getting complacent.”
PHCC has an alumni scrimmage Saturday at 11:50 a.m. and starts the regular season by hosting Florida College on Aug. 23 at 6 p.m.
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.