Grace (1)
Wharton High freshman Gracie Viloria (left) has stepped up to varsity to serve as the Wildcats’ setter in place of the injured Tyler Sroufe. Photo: Cotey

By John Cotey

The Wharton volleyball team opened the season with a lofty goal — to compete for a State Championship. After winning their first nine matches, the Class 7A, District 8 Wildcats looked like a team determined to meet those expectations.

When senior setter Tyler Sroufe went down with a torn ACL and MCL, however, things changed. How much so has yet to be determined.

The good news — the Wildcats are still winning matches (they were 12-1, 4-0 in their District at our press time), as new setter Gracie Viloria has stepped in and helped right the Wharton ship, as coach Eric Barber experiments with new blocking schemes and rotations to ease the transition.

A 14-year-old freshman move-in from South Carolina, Viloria (5’6”) is taking a crash course in running an offense that has tall, big-time weapons at the net like Lindsey Schaible (6’2”), Caroline Delisle (5’10”) and Kathryn Attar (6’1”).

“She’s very confident for a freshman, so that helps a lot,’’ said Barber (who picked up his 100th career victory as a coach at Wharton earlier this season) about Viloria.

Viloria didn’t arrive at Wharton until the second day of school, which was after Barber had already picked his varsity and junior varsity volleyball teams. But, a tryout at practice, where Barber said he was impressed by the freshman’s good hands, earned Viloria a spot on the jayvee and, after just a few weeks, she was called up to varsity.

“It’s definitely a hard loss, losing your setter, but Gracie is really filling her (Sroufe’s) shoes,’’ Schaible said. “She knows what she’s doing.”

When Viloria was cast into the starting role, her varsity experience had only consisted of one game played against Wiregrass Ranch High in Wesley Chapel and a few varsity practices.

“When I came on the team, I was just trying to learn stuff from Tyler, to soak it all in, all the tips and techniques and mechanics, so I can be ready for next year after she graduates,’’ Viloria said. “Now, I have to step up.”

The added pressure doesn’t seem to  bother Viloria. Instead, she says she enjoys it.

But, grabbing hold of the leadership qualities that made Sroufe so good has been a challenge for the team’s only freshman.

“Tyler said I need to be loud, because the setters on teams are always loud and directing people and being like the captain,’’ she said. “That’s hard for me since everyone is older than me. It’s the hardest part.”

But, Wharton has an abundance of senior leadership to make up for it. Schaible is one of the top middle blockers in the state, and will play at NCAA Division I Providence College in Providence, RI, next season. 

Chanelle Hargreaves, the 5’-4” libero (a defensive player on each team who must wear a different colored jersey), will join her brother Vernon at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Attar is arguably the best outside hitter in Tampa Bay and has verbally committed to the University of Colorado in Boulder (also NCAA Division I), and while only a junior, Attar’s leadership skills are unquestioned.

Viloria will need to fit in to help keep the Wildcats winning.

“{You hate to see} any kind of catastrophic injury, but when it happens more towards the beginning of the season, it gives you a chance to make adjustments,’’ Barber says. “(Gracie)’s going to get a lot of reps in this system. By the time we get to playoffs, it won’t be an experience thing anymore.”

Wharton Hosting 5th Harvest Tourney — This Weekend!

A bunch of those reps will come in the fifth annual Wharton Harvest Tournament the Wildcats are hosting Friday-Saturday, Oct. 9-10. The field includes New Tampa-area and District rival Freedom High and recent State playoff teams like Durant, Sunlake and Bishop McLaughlin.

By the conclusion of the tournament, the Wildcats should have a good idea of how realistic their preseason goals of going to state still are.

“I think with every practice, we’re coming back together,’’ said Schaible. ”I’m still really hopeful. I think we can come together and pull it off. I definitely think we’re still very strong at the positions we need to be, and going into Districts, we’re still the team to beat.”

  • When: Friday-Saturday, Oct. 9-10
  • Where: Paul R. Wharton High School
  • Who: Wharton, Freedom, Plant City, Brandon, Durant, Sunlake, Lakewood Ranch & Bishop McLaughlin.
  • Note: Fans are encouraged to bring food donations (no glass containers) to the game to benefit local food banks.

Recommended Posts

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment