BRADENTON -- The shift toward building a volleyball dynasty began a few years ago.
That means contending and winning state championships on a regular basis, while tearing up local competition.
But that requires a foundation to be laid.
At State College of Florida, the Manatees are generating national buzz with their volleyball team in head coach Carmine Garofalo's third year at the helm.
The club is 19-5 and has risen to No. 10 in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Poll. Only the College of Central Florida ranked higher in the most recent poll, which came out this past Wednesday.
"We're inspired and motivated to play these kinds of teams, because that's where we want to bring the program to," Garofalo said.
SCF is known for its tradition-rich baseball program, which has churned out numerous major leaguers and qualified for JUCO World Series appearances under head coaches Bob Wynn and Tim Hill.
In volleyball, only the 1988
club, which was inducted into SCF's Hall of Fame last January, claimed a state crown.
In fact, that team was one of only two programs other than Miami-Dade to win a state championship.
"It's a psychological thing for a lot of players and a lot of teams," Garofalo said. "When someone wins 25 out of 26 championships, you already go in there pretty much defeated."
So to begin its ascent to the upper echelon, SCF hired Garofalo away from Southeast High, where he developed a core group of players that advanced to the Class 3A regional semifinals in 2010, a year after Garofalo took over the Manatees.
At SCF, Garofalo began assembling a team that could compete at the state and national levels.
That meant recruiting top-notch players. Aurora Newgard was one of those early players Garofalo helped mold. Now a beach volleyball player for Florida State, Newgard, a Groveland native, was the 2010-11 Suncoast Player of the Year under Garofalo's watch.
Garofalo also looked for top-notch players closer to home.
"The first thing we need to do is have a competitive program, because the good players are not going to want to play for a weak program," Garofalo said. "And good players have options all over the place. So our goal has been to develop a strong program, which I think we have done so far. And we certainly want to focus on local talent."
Sarah Geraldson was a key figure on last season's club, but she also was forced to play a bevy of positions due to injuries to other players.
Still, SCF continued improving from Garofalo's first year as head coach.
And this season, the program is excelling at a high level, witnessed by the monumental victory earlier this year against the College of Central Florida, ranked No. 1 in the state.
A core group of Manatee County players have aided SCF during their freshman years.
They are Brittany Jaco (Braden River alum), Abi Van Ostenbridge (Bradenton Christian) and Brittane Hunter (Southeast).
All three have seen playing time this year, with Hunter tallying 103 kills.
"I'm from here, and (Garofalo) was my coach freshman year (at Southeast)," Hunter said. "So it's really not that big of a transition."
Garofalo said there are three more players from Charlotte County who have been key players alongside Jaco, Van Ostenbridge and Hunter.
That includes setter Kierston Smith, who attended Port Charlotte High and has 691 assists in 22 matches.
SCF also has imported three standout Canadian players. Rachel Arnason and captain Nicole McDonald are sophomores, while outside hitter Tessa Alyman is just a freshman.
However, Alyman leads the team in kills (220) and has helped on the defensive side with 115 digs.
McDonald has chipped in 102 kills, as SCF has five players with more than 100 kills, including Arnason (138).
"I've never been on a team where we are all so driven and so determined," McDonald said.
And that determination has led to a focused squad that is ranked No. 10 in the country.
Not a bad start to what looks like a promising season.