Two seasons. Two historic accomplishments.
Since taking over the girls volleyball program at Robinson High in 2012, Christen Garcia has lifted the Knights from a substandard reputation to state-title contender.
In 2012, the Knights reached the Class 5A elite eight, falling in the region championship to the defending state champions. It was the furthest any Knights team had gone since 1978. Though it could have been perceived as luck, the following year, Garcia took a team with a sub-.500 record entering the playoffs to the state semifinals.
“I was given an opportunity by my principal to come here with a clean slate,” said Garcia, who was named the Tribune’s Girls Volleyball Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2013. “There was a lot of potential.”
With Garcia in her third year, the volleyball community is wondering what the Knights have in store this season.
“Is there pressure to win a state championship? No,” Garcia said. “Is it something we’re fighting for? Yes. Is it attainable? Yes.”
A member of Durant’s state championship program at the turn of the century, Garcia went on to play collegiately at Georgia State as a libero. After college, she was hired as a full-time assistant at Georgia State, spent three months as an assistant at Illinois State and was brought on with a new coaching staff at the University of Iowa. It was then that Garcia realized coaching in the college ranks wasn’t for her at the time.
“I realized I wanted to coach high school and club,” she said. “I’ve really grown to love volleyball from a grass-roots level, teaching kids the basics and getting them to college rather than (coaching) at a strategic level.”
Academy of the Holy Names coach Jeff Davis, Garcia’s father, coached Garcia during her days at Durant. He hired her as an assistant for his Tampa Bay One and Tampa Bay Juniors club teams and also had her on his staff at Holy Names.
“She had a lot of qualities and characteristics to be a good coach,” Davis said. “She’s very competitive and she’s always been on winning teams. She’s learned what is required to be a winner.”
The Knights graduated five seniors from last year’s team, a group that played an important part in consecutive playoff runs. This year, Garcia will attempt to guide a younger group to a third straight run at a state title.
Leading the team will be junior outside hitter Catia Sleet, junior right-side hitter Meghan Byrd, sophomore libero Emily Draper and sophomore middle/outside hitter McKenna Tyson.
“We don’t have a lot of standouts,” Garcia. “But they’ll be tough to beat. They just work well together.”