• Florida Gateway College coach Richie Tang gives instruction during Thursday's practice (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).
    Florida Gateway College coach Richie Tang gives instruction during Thursday's practice (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).

COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL: T'Wolves now serving

Florida Gateway College opens fall practice for its second season since 1982.

Season opener is just a few weeks away, so the Lady Timberwolves returned to the court as fall practice opened this week at Florida Gateway College.

The junior college volleyball team is back to work, ready to build on last year's 7-11 season, which was the team's first campaign in 36 years. FGC has loftier goals this time around. Now an official member of the Sun-Lakes Conference, FGC is eligible for postseason play and potentially a national tournament bid in 2018.

"The motivation is always to win and compete, but now we have something in our grasp," FGC coach Richie Tang said. "And everybody goes to the (Sun-Lakes) tournament, so potentially we could finish last in our conference – hopefully we don't – and then run the table at the tournament… I think that's exciting thing, that we have the opportunity."

FGC aims to hit its stride in its second season back since the program was disbanded in 1982. The Lady Timberwolves look to shape up the six-team conference with help from its incoming recruiting class, which features standout players in Jaylin Roberts (Suwannee) and Madison Brugh (Middleburg).

FGC has added much-needed size and experience to this year's squad.

"We're deeper across the front," Tang said. "That's the real good thing. We're deep at every spot and can push our kids to be a little bit more competitive. That's the thing that any team wants to have, some depth, but depth that can actually play."

While the group continues to groom the new talent, the Lady Timberwolves are expected to be anchored by their key five returners in Ameah Gerideau, Madison Morrison, Ashton Matthews, Antonette Ochipa and Katelyn Blong.

Each player will be counted on as the team transitions from a rebuilding campaign into the first truly competitive volleyball season at FGC in decades.

"It's really important to have kids who understand what our culture is like," Tang said. "It's kind of a cliche to use the word 'culture' but every team needs a culture. And every team needs to know, like (during practice) we don't cheer for water. That's one basic thing they told our (new) girls. 'We don't cheer for water. We cheer for team, hard work, the Timberwolves – but we don't cheer for water'. It's one of those intricacies we try make sure our incoming kids know and understand. It's fantastic to have that, that means I have five other coaches that know what I want."

The returning veterans say it's been enjoyable to see the newcomers competing hard and buying into the second-year coach's system and expectations.

"We're used to it already, it's just about getting them into a rhythm," Gerideau said. "And they're already getting into it. I think once they do we're going to be really good."

FGC opens the season at Johnson University on Aug. 23 and is scheduled to host its conference opener against Lake Sumter on Sept. 14. Over the next few weeks, the Lady Timberwolves will continue to tweak their lineup and experiment with certain position changes. Tang says playing time will be determined during this month, challenging everyone – including the returners – to prove their value.

"We're not a team that gives out stuff. If you want something given to you, go somewhere else. We're going to make our kids earn every single thing. That's something I pride myself on is having our kids understand: you're going to earn it."

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