For the past 14 years, the ladies in the lengthy shorts have cast a lengthy shadow over volleyball in the United States Collegiate Athletics Association. The following provides a brief history of the building of a dynasty, as well as this year’s championship — the marking of a NINE-asty.
In 1999, Donna Parimore took a group of standouts in her volleyball class and enrolled them in a women’s league at a nearby recreation center. The following year, the College’s volleyball instructor became known as Coach as the team graduated from club status to become Florida College’s first intercollegiate volleyball team. Even in their first season, the team showed promise and received an invitation to the National Tournament where they earned fourth place. The following year they earned their first USCAA National Championship, followed by a second in 2003. There were “three-peats” from 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2011. followed by back-to-back heartbreaking losses in championship games in 2012 and 2013. This year, they embarked on a path toward their sixth-straight tournament appearance, determined to reclaim their supremacy in the USCAA and earn their ninth national title.
“You never seem like you’re happy — you just won the game!”
Such remarks are jokingly made by friends after hard-fought games, according to Parimore.
“Yes, but it looked like we were putting out a fire,” is her common response.
This exchange is indicative of Parimore’s high expectations: she wants to win, but by the most sound and efficient means possible. These expectations were at the heart of Coach’s anxiety during the summer, much of which was focused on filling the team’s role of setter. She had recruited Abbey Rouch (pictured left), a junior transfer student from New Port Richey, to fill the role. But Rouch’s primary experience was in defense, and Parimore was unsure of how her latest recruit could fill the role for which she was recruited.
“I was very pleasantly surprised,” said Parimore of Rouch. “After a week of three-a-days she already proved she would be crucial to our 5-1 offense. And she proved she could handle right-side blocking as well.”
Rouch’s willingness to adapt was just one of the ingredients in the Lady Falcons’ successful season. Freshman libero Rachel Tharp showed value on both sides of the ball, playing every position but middle blocker.
On Oct. 24, after cruising through a 19-6 regular season, the Lady Falcons entered the Hillsborough Community College Tournament, where they faced their toughest competition of the year in NJCAA opponents. Parimore schedules the tournament as a final preparation for USCAA Nationals, and this year, it produced some of her squad’s most consistent play.
“We had struggled with consistent serves all season,” said Parimore. “Abbie Worsfold came up huge in that tournament and had some really clutch serves.”
Freshman Shelby Paxton also came into her own. An agile, defensively minded player, Parimore says Paxton used the HCC tournament to settle down and fit into a reliable second option as back row hitter. After a 3-1 finish at the HCC Tournament, the Lady Falcons were firing on all cylinders and were ready to travel to USCAA Nationals in Canton, New York. Their serves remained consistent and their offense as dominant as ever as they dispatched Penn State (Fayette) and Alfred State College without losing a single set. The following day, they were led by senior Malea Kalina, who ended her collegiate career in outstanding fashion, recording a game-high 15 kills and 14 digs in the Falcons’ championship matchup against Rochester College. The veteran hitter’s kills were a part of the Falcons’ 50-25 kill advantage and .209 attack percentage. They also boasted a 48-24 advantage in assists.
“We got better with trusting each other,” said Kalina, looking back on the season. “We got to learn what each of us were capable of doing, who could get to what balls, our strengths.”
Kalina was named All-Tournament Team along with teammate Abbey Rouch, who led the tournament in assists and service aces. Kalina also earned First-Team All-American status, Tournament MVP and the USCAA’s Player of the Year award.
Kalina, who transferred to Florida College as a junior, recalls her first encounter with the College.
“I played against the school. I found out about it from Kerri (Taylor ’12) smashing balls in my face,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that.”
Although the Lady Falcons’ season has only just ended, Coach Parimore is already looking toward the next season. She will lose Kalina, along with fellow senior Camille Crim, who provided stability as blocker and leadership as the team’s captain and also earned a First-Team All-American nod. Still, Parimore will enjoy a core of returning players, including junior blocker Savannah Gorman, an already integral part of the defense whom Parimore notes as having improved significantly during the season. She also has several first-year commits, including her daughter, Ally, a setter, who plans to sign with Florida College this week.
Florida College congratulates Coach Parimore on her continued success, Malea Kalina on her outstanding season and the Lady Falcons for bringing home a ninth national championship.