A host of returning players and a new head coach has The Villages High School volleyball team eyeing big things in 2020.
The Buffalo open their regular-season campaign tonight at South Sumter in Bushnell, returning all but one graduating senior from a year ago.
VHS also welcomes Mary Pinkowski as head coach following the departure of Kelly Shipes, who led the team to a 4-17 mark in her only season in 2019.
“I think we’re all really excited for this season,” said sophomore Caley Sosnowski, who set a single-season VHS record with 459 digs as a freshman last fall. “There’s been a lot of changes — but all for the better — and we’re going to come out swinging. We’re going to come out fighting and knowing that our
expectations for ourselves are different this year.”
The shift in expectations comes as part of a complete program overhaul, as Pinkowski assumes head coaching duties for VHS this season. Pinkowski, who also serves as head softball coach for the Buffalo in the spring, brings a wealth of previous coaching experience, having helped revive Mount Dora’s volleyball program prior to her move to VHS
“Right away I’ve been able to tell that this team is thirsty,” said Pinkowski, who also credited her trio of assistant coaches to make for an easier transition. “I can see how bad they want to win. They’re ready to be here and they’re ready to work hard to make it happen.”
Pinkowski’s arrival has brought a change in the culture surrounding the VHS volleyball program, a shift that’s featured more structure in team practices, a focus on player accountability and a stronger work ethic collectively.
“A lot of these girls have that ‘win now’ mentality already in them, and it’s just about getting them to see it,” Pinkowski said. “You don’t become a great volleyball player overnight, though. It takes a lot of hard work — which they’ve put it in so far — and I’m excited to see it hopefully follow through for them.”
By all early indications, the Buffalo and their experienced returning core of eight upperclassmen are already starting to feel Pinkowski’s impact.
“Right away, you can just feel our culture as a program is so much better,” Sosnowski said. “She’s obviously a no-nonsense type of coach — and we’ve needed that. It took a little time for us to adjust to that, but we’re all on the same page and agree this is where we want to be.”
VHS is set to play a 10-game schedule this fall — less than half of the number of games played in previous years due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Players will also be required to wear masks or face coverings on the court during play, though the unprecedented nature of the season isn’t going to deter the Buffalo from trying to make it a special one.
“We’ve definitely been putting in the work and there’s a lot to look forward to,” said senior Micaela McGrath, who led VHS with 180 kills last season. “I really hope it shows out there for however many games we can make it out there together as a team.”