ORANGE PARK – With four straight district titles in her pocket, Ridgeview High volleyball coach Destiny Brightman sees the 2019 season as transitional at best considering the new teams now in her …
ORANGE PARK – With four straight district titles in her pocket, Ridgeview High volleyball coach Destiny Brightman sees the 2019 season as transitional at best considering the new teams now in her district 3-5A lineup; mainly playoff mainstays Middleburg and Stanton high schools.
“Middleburg is always Middleburg and they will be tough and one of the bigger schools in our new 5A district,” said Brightman who coaches with Steven Henry and Anthony Favors of Houston. “Stanton we have seen each year in the 6A region quarterfinals and we have had good luck with them. It’s Bishop Kenny in the region semifinals that has been our achilles heel. That changes.”
For the past four years, under Brightman, Ridgeview had dominated the district lineup, beaten Stanton in the first round of regions and lost to Bishop Kenny in the second round as Kenny has garnered a 5A state title in 2015, a 6A Final Four in 2016, a 6A Final Four in 2017 and a 6A Final Four last year. Middleburg was district 3-7A champion last year, runnerup in 2017 and 2016; all with first round region playoff losses to either Ocala Forest or Ocala Vanguard. Vanguard was 7A champion last year and 7A runnerup in 2016.
“They (Kenny) go to 4A this year,” said Brightman, who enters her sixth season. “Stanton, who lost some key players, stays with us and Middleburg drops in. It doesn’t get any easier.”
Top returners for Brightman, 14-13 overall last year, include libero Ashlyn Halford (364 digs), hitter Aubry Brown (134 Kills) and blocker Devinn Nickson (led team with 24 blocks) with losses going to hitter Saige Rivers to Grambling University, hitter Kaeley Kellar to Gateway College in Lake City and Katherine Belveal to Pasco Hernando State College (328 assists).
“I do have a core returning group, but one surprise returner is Shaniece Steer, who was a great middle schooler at Lake Asbury, then moved with family to Hawaii before returning here for her senior year,” said Brightman, who also cited sophomore hitter Teeya Desgoutte. “She is a cousin to Middleburg’s Mone Gordon, one of their top setters.”
Nickson and Rivers were a top net duo last year for Brightman with Nickson more the blocker and Rivers more the scoring hitter.
One key absent is Sarah Anderson who does not return after a Final Four softball campaign with Brightman’s daughter Joi, a freshman, coming in from Lakeside Junior High School.
“This year will be a test of the program because the past years we have had to hear that our district was not as strong,” said Brightman. “We will have a target on our back and the girls will have to step up.”
Brightman and Ridgeview will host a Sat., Aug. 17 preseason tournament with Orange Park, Oakleaf, Westside, Keystone Heights, Clay, Baker County and Robert E. Lee.