tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Monday, May 29, 2017

Durant duo dreams of restoring school's volleyball glory

DURANT - Bella Anzalone and Lexi Thompson know all about the storied history of Durant High School's volleyball team, which has won three state championships and finished as runner-up twice since the school opened in 1995. Anzalone's sister and Thompson's aunt helped win some of that hardware. Now they'd like to return the squad to the top. The outside hitters were both named captains this season, along with Raelynn Nichols. Behind second-year head coach Brittany Wilson, who was a member of the 2002 state championship team, the pair of juniors are putting in the work to be the best.
"We try to be the first one in, last one to leave," said Anzalone, 16. "We try to lead by example." Wilson has taken notice. "If practice didn't start until 9, they were here at 8 to get extra reps," she said. The players are drawing inspiration from the Durant softball team winning the state title last spring. "Seeing the softball team win state, it's all in our heads that we want that," said 15-year-old Thompson. With a full season under her belt, Wilson also is more comfortable with her players and has put more trust in her captains. "Coach has put more responsibility on us this year," said Thompson. Practices can be demanding. Beforehand, each player must state an "I will" — a daily goal such as "I will not hit the ball into the net." Wilson holds her players to those vows. Scrimmages can get competitive, with consequences for the losers. "You have to run suicides if you lose twice in a row," Anzalone said. Durant finished as the district runner-up last season to Plant High, losing 3-1 in the district championship game. And although some teams might get discouraged having a perennial powerhouse in the district, Anzalone says having to beat the 10-time state champions for the district title helps the team. "It's more motivating," she said. "We're always saying 'Gotta beat Plant.'" To keep players focused, the team has a banner displayed prominently in its gym that says "Begin With The End In Mind." Winning the district title in October would be the team's first win since 2007, but that's not the final goal. The team was runner-up for the state title in 2007 but hasn't won it all since 2002, following titles in 1999 and 2001. "The goal is November," Wilson said of the state playoffs. "I know what my team can accomplish," she said. "We have to have the right positive mindset, and forget the name on the other team's jersey." Even though the players spend just as much time playing for their club teams — Anzalone plays for Tampa United and Thompson for Tampa Bay One — they like the atmosphere that comes with playing for their school. "A lot more people show up for Durant's games then our club games," Thompson said. They also like the sense of family that comes with playing for Durant. "We have team dinners, potluck style," said Anzalone. "We get along great." "We are just one big family," said Thompson. A family she hopes to win a title with this November.

Have an idea for a local athlete or team Ben should write about? Email him at Benjamin.J .Henderson@gmail.com.

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