— Caci Andreychuk has known success her entire life.
The daughter of former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk, she was on the ice as the Lightning celebrated winning the 2004 Stanley Cup.
Of course that was seven years ago, an eternity for a high school junior. Caci said the term of limitations when it comes to bragging rights at the dinner table are all over now. If Wharton High School can win a state championship this year, its first title ever, Caci said the table is hers.
Andreychuk, a junior, dominated during the recent Wharton Volleyball Tournament, which featured six teams from Tampa Bay. The Wildcats were undefeated throughout the tournament and Andreychuk wore out her arm pounding home winners. She said she doesn't feel like she is an intimidator and still thinks her team is flying too far under the radar for anyone to notice.
"I don't feel like I am intimidator," Andreychuk said. "Our whole team can intimidate because we work so hard at it. If I have a bad game, someone else can step up for me."
Wharton coach Eric Barber likes the attitude, but said Andreychuk doesn't need to be so modest.
"The opponents are scared of her, you can tell," Barber said. "Wharton volleyball hasn't been such a big deal for the past 10 years, but people are starting to know us and word is getting around about Caci and the entire team."
Andreychuk suits up for the Tampa United club team when the high school season ends, so she puts in about 10 months a year. She'd like to run track this year but won't if it cuts into volleyball time.
Volleyball time at Wharton might go a little bit longer this year if the Wildcats stay on a roll. While Andreychuk and Ashton Stocker are juniors, the rest of the starting lineup is rounded out by seniors Stephanie Brown, Jenna McKernan, Andrea Poblete and Kathryn Kastner.
It's a lineup that has been together for three years even though Andreychuk had to spend part of her freshman year on the bench learning the game while Wharton struggled. It was tough to watch at the time, Andreychuk said, but she learned a lot from her father who had retired from the Lightning by then.
"I feel like I learned to be a leader from my dad," Andreychuk said. "He gave me somebody I could look up to when it came to sports. The one thing he told me was that I had to put in the work and the time to be a winner. I learned that there are no shortcuts. I didn't like sitting that freshman year, but he taught me to work my way into the lineup."
Barber never had any doubts that eventually Andreychuk would be the dominating force that she turned out to be, but he thinks the freshman experience paid off.
"The first time I saw her, I saw the awesome potential she had," Barber said. "We knew we could become an attacking team to make it all happen and she was perfect for the part.
"She had to start on the junior varsity, but she had to learn our offense. No one worked harder to be a great player and I had to move her up to varsity, but she earned the jump. It was tough for her and she didn't understand why she had to sit on the bench, but her work ethic paid off for her and the entire team."
Even though Andreychuk and Stocker are returning next season, Andreychuk said, with losing four seniors, this is truly their window of opportunity. She said she noticed the potential the first day of practice. The team set personal goals and team goals and most of the players were on the same page.
"This year we have perfect team chemistry and we all like each other," Andreychuk said. "We are gelling at the right time."