People at East Lake (Tarpon Springs, Fla.)
knew Mike Estes could coach. The question entering the fall was if he could coach volleyball.
As the Silver Eagles enter the Florida 8A state volleyball semifinal bracket
this Friday, it looks like the answer is "Yes."
Estes, coach of East Lake's softball team
the past five seasons, guided the Eagles to a 28-1 record, a No. 10 national ranking
and a trip to the state semis on the diamond last spring. Around that time volleyball coach Terry Small resigned amid allegations of recruiting and impermissible benefits for players that resulted in fines of more than $11,000 for the school.
The Eagles needed someone to step in, and after some convincing Estes decided to give volleyball a try, even though he'd never coached the sport before.
"The principal of the school approached me about it and said I did a good job with the girls in the softball program and asked me if I would take over the volleyball program and I initially turned him down," Estes said. "I hadn't done it before and this is a very good team and I was stepping in for a very talented person."
Small left big shoes to fill after guiding East Lake to the school's first state championship last fall. But he also left Estes with a ton of talent. Of course, what Estes lacked in experience in the sport he had in knowledge of the roster that included his daughter, Brittnay
, a returning senior starter.
At first, even Brittnay wondered if her dad was the right man for the job.
"He came to me and said, ‘I'm probably going to take the job,'" Brittnay said. "I asked him, 'Do you even know anything about volleyball?'"
It turned out Estes, like a lot of dads, had picked up quite a bit about the game watching his daughter, who as both a middle and outside hitter has been one of East Lake's kill leaders since her freshman season.
But she was far from the only star returning to help the Eagles defend their state crown. In fact, East Lake returned all six starters and, like Brittnay Estes, seniors Rachel Reed
, Brianna McComeskey
and Jackie Wegner
had been among East Lake's top performers since they were freshmen.
McComesky, Estes and Wegner – along with fellow senior Julia Brunner
– have dominated in front of the net this season with Reed, the team's top setter, controlling the tempo for the Eagles, who swept three sets Saturday against Winter Park in the regional finals.
The fact he inherited perhaps the most experienced and talented team in Florida only helped Mike Estes in his transition to volleyball coach. He hasn't had to spend much time teaching the finer points of the game, instead doing what he does best in organizing and motivating talented players.
"We already know the whole technical and mechanical part of the game," Brittnay said. "He's the mental coach. Terry helped us all get to where we need to be now. My dad has been helping us, really pushing us to get back to the state finals."
The East Lake players had developed a close bond with Small and at first were weary of playing the season without him, but quickly regained their spirits after Estes, someone most of the players knew well, took over.
"We kind of got over the fact we couldn't have our coach," Reed said. "We just practiced hard and made it all about defending our championship."
East Lake enters the state semis as the favorite to win it all, but the Eagles aren't taking anything for granted.
"We don't expect it to be easy at all," Reed said. "But we're just going to go out there and play our game. We're such close team and we just play really well together so I think we have a really good shot at doing it again this year."