5-foot-5 outside hitter
will journey over 19 hrs.,
1,240 miles to next home
By TONY CASTRO
Life-long Hernando County resident Olivia Whitney DeLoach has opted to resettle in Connecticut to begin the next phase of her life.
After the 5-foot-5, 125-pound outside hitter completed her fourth volleyball season for Springstead High – the last three campaigns at the varsity level – she signed a national letter of intent to play volleyball at Division-III Mitchell College in New London, Conn.
The change will be drastic.
DeLoach was born and raised in Spring Hill.
But she‘ll report to the Mariners’ gorgeous campus on Aug. 19. That‘s a hike from Hernando County spanning over 12 hours and covering 1,240 miles.
Olivia was born the youngest of two daughters to Dennis DeLoach and Andrea Ruggiero.
Her mother played softball when she was younger while her father played in football and basketball.
The couple met in New York before relocating to Hernando County.
Tracing her athletic roots, DeLoach says cheerleading in fifth grade was her initial organized sport.
Before then, she didn’t play any sports.
But after matriculating to Explorer K-8, she began to branch out.
As a sixth-grader, she made the junior varsity volleyball and basketball teams for the Bobcats.
That spring, she concentrated in the quarter mile and long jump.
A year later, she played on the varsity volleyball and basketball squads and even pitched and played outfield for the softball team.
During track season, she focused on the 400 meters, 4×100 and 4×400 relays and the long jump.
As an eighth-grader, she scaled back her participation.
She played volleyball and basketball, but chose not to go back out for softball.
In track, she replaced the 400 with the 200 meters, ran both relays and stuck to the long jump.
Once she enrolled Mariner Boulevard campus of SHS, she made the junior varsity volleyball team as a freshman and varsity basketball squad.
For the next three seasons, she played at the varsity level in volleyball and excelled in track and field.
When she wasn’t competing for the Eagles, she remained busy with club volleyball circuit.
She did find some time to serve in student council as a senior.
Outside of athletics, DeLoach maintained a 2.9 unweighted and 3.2 weighted grade point average.
He says her favorite courses included Mr. Wilson’s US History and Jay McNerney’s government class.
Torn between volleyball, track
The brown-tressed and brown-eyed DeLoach calls volleyball her favorite team sports and track her favorite individual sport.
“Volleyball could be really fun. You’ve got to rely on the other pieces to become successful,” she admits. Though she says the volleyball can be frustrating – at times – “there’s nothing like finishing off a nice pass with a spike off the gym floor.”
“… I feel like when I’m out on the floor, I’m dedicated to not just playing, but competing as well as I can for my teammates. It’s a personal thing.”
Though DeLoach isn’t blessed with the 32” vertical leap that her former teammate Alexis Thompson possessed, nor does she have the big body like Sami McLeod or Jennifer Aten, she studies her opponents’ hands to hit the ball around blocks – not at them.
“I feel like I’m working with what I have. I’m shorter than a lot of outside hitters. You have to be smarter when you’re attacking,” she notes. “I have to use my opponent’s hands, to go around them.”
On where DeLoach’s game has improved the most, “It’s on being more engaged. I was a quiet person when I got to Springstead. You’ve got to be able to communicate on the court with your teammates. I’ve gotten much better at it.”
Her biggest assets include her communication skills and her ability to react quickly and adjust to what’s going on the court.
“I’m improved confidence-wise. Especially hitting from the outside,“ she notes. “I watch a lot of videos to perfect my skills, to try to do better.“
DeLoach has always found time for track.
“For me, what I put into track, is what I get out of track,” she said. “There’s a lot of personal satisfaction in cutting time or going further.”
Her favorite event has become the triple jump.
“I remember being in districts as a junior and it was me and one last girl to decide who goes to regionals or not. She scratched and I followed with a leap of over 31 feet. That was my moment.
“… I found out quickly, there so many good runners in track. I couldn’t stay up with many, except I could always compete in the triple jump.”
Wrapping up prep action
Graduation losses were severe enough that DeLoach and Aten attempted to rebuild a team this past season among a ton of younger players.
“To me, volleyball is all about building relationships with my teammates and fellow players across the net. We definitely lost some quality players – due to graduation – from the year before. Jen and I just tried to rebuild. It was hard because of the experience – or lack of experience.”
Choosing the Mariners
Prior to signing, DeLoach visited D-III Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and Mitchell College.
After soaking up both campuses, DeLoach said Mitchell was the hands down winner.
“It was based on location and location,” she beamed. “Mitchell is centrally located two hours from Boston and two hours from New York. The campus is right on the water, it’s a beautiful campus.“Coach Drew sold me,” recalled DeLoach. “He’s trying to rebuild the program. I like the idea of building something. He’s bringing in a huge recruiting class to try to turn things around.“Both (NCT’s) Alexi (Hubbard) and I visited at the same time. Coach told us I believe in you guys but the minute we show up everything is a competition. No one, he said, is guaranteed any thing. He said that he wasn’t promising either of us anything. Playing time, he said, will be based on ability.”
“At this point, I don’t know if I’m gonna play libero – like I do on my club team – or play outside (hitter),” shared DeLoach. “I have to play and show where I’m at.“
DeLoach plans on studying education to become an elementary school teacher.
She drew inspiration from her “nanna” – she was a teacher.
“At the next level its all about doing what you’re passionate about,” noted DeLoach. “As a youngster, I thought my elementary teachers shaped me into the type of person I’d like to become. Someone who is willing to help others.”
On playing in the colder clime after so many years in the Sunshine State, “I wanted to go up North and enjoy the cold weather,“ shared DeLoach. “I’ve lived in Florida for so long, it’s time for a change.
“I’ll admit, the smaller class sizes were really appealing to me as well. There’s better one-on-one with the teachers.”
On the decision to attend Mitchell, “My parents left that all up to me,“ explained DeLoach. “I report Aug. 19.
“I’m excited to experience something new,” she said. “I’m not really scared.”
DeLoach is fully recovered from fracturing her left hand during club volleyball season.
In a scramble, a teammate fell on her.
The cast is completely off and she says she’s fully recovered and following her workout plan for Mitchell.
“I know I’ll have to fight procrastination. I’ve got to buckle down and do what I have to do every day to succeed,” explained the 18-year-old.
Before heading up North, she addressed her legacy.
“In my four years, I’ve overcome a lot of adversity. Even when I broke my hand in club ball, I could have stopped doing track this year, but I choose to push through.
“… I‘d like to be remembered as someone who never gave up,” she stressed.