After winning back-to-back district titles and graduating its star player, Riverview High School's volleyball team might have looked to rebuild this year.
Fortunately for the Sharks and third-year Coach Kristin Grosso, however, senior middle hitter Kiahna Wicks capably has stepped in for Sarah Burrington, who now plays for Florida Sate University.
"I knew I had nine great seniors coming into the season," Grosso said, "and knowing I had Kiahna this year, I was fine."
Wicks, 17, is one of the top-ranked high school players in Florida in hitting percentage and kills per set. (A "kill" is a spike resulting in a point.) Wicks said she has exceeded her own expectations.
"I've never been one of the top hitters in the state before," she said. "It feels really good."
Grosso said people who know Wicks might not expect her to be among the state's top hitters. "She is such a humble person," the coach said, "but when you see her hit a ball it's like, 'Whoa.'"
Wicks attributes her success partly to work she put in this summer. She was a member of the Florida High Performance Team, a collection of top players throughout the state, and played in tournaments including one in Iowa.
"It helped with my confidence and it helped perfect my skills," Wicks said.
Wicks has committed to play for Samford University, a Division I school in Birmingham, Ala., that competes in the Southern Conference. She plans to study pre-pharmacy or biology with hopes of moving on to pharmacy school.
Grosso said she thinks it has helped Wicks to get her college choice out of the way.
"I'm beyond proud of her," Grosso said. "She is definitely more confident this year since making her decision (on which college to attend)."
Riverview certainly has benefited from Wicks' strong play. Through Oct. 2 the team was 12-5 and undefeated in district play. The Sharks play at Brandon High on Thursday night, and then have senior night at home on Monday against Newsome High, before closing the regular season at Plant High on Oct. 17.
"We had a lot of injuries in the beginning of the season, but right now we are on a roll," Wicks said.
The district tournament for Riverview is two weeks away. While the team hopes to win its third straight title, it also hopes to make it farther than in the past two seasons. The Sharks lost in the regional semi-final round both years.
Wicks, her teammates and their coach know it won't be easy.
"All the other teams are coming after us," Wicks said. "Plant City and East Bay will be tough."
"It's going to require patience, energy and consistency," Grosso said. "The consistency has gotten better. They have been working harder."