BRADENTON — Similar to the rest of the volleyball players who come out of Venice, Natalie Gaudreau knows all about winning.
She also knows that winning hasn’t been associated much with State College of Florida’s volleyball team lately.
She knows that is something she wants to change.
“I think everybody is just kind of sick of losing,” Gaudreau said. “We want to change that. We want people to go, ‘SCF? They’re so good.’”
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A sophomore outside hitter and one of SCF’s captains, Gaudreau and the rest of the Manatees hope to reverse the course of a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005 and went 6-29 last year.
The team’s new coach, Carmine Garofalo, hopes to reverse it, too.
“I don’t think we can accomplish anything until we believe we can compete,” said Garofalo, who used to coach at Southeast, “that we’re as good as everybody.
“I believe in this program, I believe in the girls we have ...”
He believes in players such as Gaudreau, a member of Venice’s 2005 Class 5A state championship team. She worked out with the team sporadically last year while deciding if she wanted to get back into volleyball.
Not only did she want to play volleyball again. She wanted to play at SCF.
“I did have an amazing experience at Venice,” Gaudreau said. “I just immediately said, ‘I need to play here. I need to help change this culture.’”
Changing a team’s mindset can be more difficult than correcting physical mistakes on the court. But Garofalo considers himself a coach who has always put the mental side of the game first and plans on bringing that approach to the Manatees, who open the regular season during this weekend’s tournament in Jacksonville.
“By teaching them what they’re doing and what it should look like, then you can build on success,” he said. “These are talented women here. If they know what they need to do, they can execute the skills. It’s not the skills that are the issues — the issues are really what’s between our two ears and what we think about ourselves.”
Players have begun to see some changes. Sophomore co-captain Aurora Newgard remembers how losing crept into the team’s mindset last year and prevented them from holding on to leads.
During Monday’s scrimmage against Clearwater Christian, however, SCF won a game 26-24 after trailing 24-17.
“We never gave up, and that never happened last year,” Newgard said. “So it was good to see that this year.”
The Manatees play their first home game at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 against Gulf Coast CC and begin Suncoast Conference play the following Tuesday when they host South Florida College.
Garofalo hopes to stoke the winning vibes before then. And the players, especially the sophomores, hope to get the program swinging back in the right direction.
“Everyone on the team feels that we can go so far,” Newgard. “And that would be so awesome — to leave and to know that we did change it.”