BRIGHTON — Asked why their new gymnasium is superior to their old digs, the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School girls volleyball players served up plenty of answers.
Brighter, larger, shorter walk, more volleyball-friendly court, easier to slide, locker rooms and concession area led responses that summed up new advantages.
“It’s awesome,” eighth-grader Janessa Nunez said.
After years of playing its home matches about a half-mile away in the Brighton gymnasium, the volleyball team will christen its new on-campus gym Sept. 14 with a home opener against Osceola Middle School at 4:30 p.m.
The timing of the new gym could not have been better considering the program has grown to 22 players this year compared to 12 a year ago. More space allows the team to split the gym and set up two courts with two separate regulation nets for practices, something that was not possible in its previous home. The boost in numbers means PECS will field a junior varsity team, which it also did not have a year ago.
“They’ll have at least six games, if not more,” PECS coach Kim Jackson said. “It gives them game-time experience, and they get practice experience. It really builds up the program for following years.”
As for the varsity, 10 players were selected after two days of tryouts. They did not waste any time making a positive impression on their coach.
“I’ve been very pleased with how they’ve come in and the improvements they’ve made over the club season,” Jackson said.
This year’s squad will have big gaps to fill after losing four players to graduation from last year’s undefeated squad. Raeley Matthews, one of those graduates, is on the varsity squad at Okeechobee High as a freshman after she led PECS in several categories last year.
Despite the departures, PECS returns a good chunk of its roster, which features an abundance of eighth-graders. The returners are Jenna Brown, Jacee Jumper, Janessa Nunez, Madisyn Osceola, Aubrey Pearce, Julia Smith and Alaina Sweat. A trio of rookies – Mariah Billie, Karey Gopher and Elle Thomas – made the varsity team as sixth-graders.
Leadership from the older players was on display during the team’s first practice Aug. 26, Jackson said.
“I set them up in a drill today, and I found it very encouraging that I split them up with the JV players and the majority of them were taking the time to help them,” Jackson said. “I think they’ll be a good example for the younger kids.”
PECS’ 10-match schedule starts Sept. 2 at Clewiston Middle School. The regular season, which includes four home matches, will conclude Oct. 6 when PECS hosts Clewiston in the annual eighth-grade parent night game.