CLEARWATER — Three points.
That’s all that separated the Clearwater Central Catholic volleyball team from making the fourth state championship final appearance in program history.
It was an all-too-familiar feeling of disappointment on the bus ride back home after the Marauders again came up empty handed in a Class 3A state semifinal loss to Orlando First Academy. Just a year earlier, they came up five points short.
“We have to be hungry for it this year,’’ coach Stephen Shepherd said. “We’ve been a game away from our goal two years in a row. Each time, we shot ourselves in the foot. Two years ago, we had 35 swinging errors, and last year we had 40. Our mantra this year is: don’t beat ourselves.”
When you walk into the CCC gym, you’ll see a cohesive unit getting back to the basics, encouraging each other to do the little things and reinforcing perfection. In fact, the team’s six seniors have been playing travel ball from the moment they lost last November.
“This year, we have more leaders than we’ve ever have with six seniors; twice as many as last year,’’ senior Katie Moore said. “We’ve been here awhile and know how this goes, and we are really clicking this year. But all that matters this year is winning a state championship.”
Shea Hamilton leads the charge with her supreme finishing power. Last year, she had a team-leading 280 kills, 312 digs and 28 aces.
Then there’s Moore, a 6-foot-3 menace at the net to deal with. The Wake Forest commit had 255 kills and a whopping 105 blocks. Add in libero Maria Jose Amundaray and seniors Rachel Odell, Sara Brown and Ashley Albers and you can see why CCC is again optimistic.
“This is by far the deepest team I’ve had in my five years here,’’ Shepherd said. “Everybody is back offensively and passing-wise. I think we have the best offense and back line in the county. This is our year to finally to raise a state championship banner.”