BROOKSVILLE- It seems like a decade since the last time Nature Coast Technical was in the Elite 8.
If you tack on four years, it's nearly been 10 years since the Sharks went 25-3 in 2011 and were on the cusp of qualifying for states. But after that magical season the program suffered a steep drop off, going 26-74 during a four-year stretch between 2012 and 2015.
Just last season the Sharks (11-4) started to see a turnaround, finishing the 2016 campaign at 15-9. The Sharks have taken the next step in their rebuild by earning the No. 1 seed in Class 6A, District 7 and Nature Coast knows just earning top of the district isn't quite enough.
"It's obviously feels good finishing as the No. 1 seed," Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. "It's an accomplishment for us since we've been down the past several years. It doesn't mean nothing, though, if we don't win the tournament."
Gore has seen the program through the good times and the bad, as she coached the Sharks during their back-to-back Elite 8 appearances in 2010 and 2011. She notes that though her club has made great strides, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
"It's discipline of a lot of the little things like defensive posture," Gore said. "It's always a challenge with high school kids. The girls will look great for four or five points and then let it go. We've got to make teams earn points. We had amazing seasons since the school opened. We went to back to back Elite 8's and we've had some years where girls weren't coming out or volleyball wasn't their No. 1 sport. The girls now make volleyball is their top sport and they're committed."
Nature Coast features some of the top outside hitters in 6A-7, with sophomore Madison Clark leading the way. The second year high school player has tallied 190 kills, which is good enough for tops on the team. Fellow teammate Faith Williams is second on the Sharks with 122 and also has 153 digs. Junior libero Jennifer Porcelli has been strong in the back end, compiling a team-high 287 digs on the season. Gore stated that teams are well aware of Clark's abilities and when all of her hitters are on, the Sharks become a very difficult club to deal with.
"I think all the teams in the district know what Madison Clark is capable of and we've got to mix things up so they don't focus on her," Gore added. "Faith (Williams) has been really consistent her entire career. If we have a team effort, it will make Madison's job a lot easier. We have six different hitters and if they're all clicking it could be a very good situation for us."
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.