By Shailey Klein
The Oak Hall girls varsity volleyball team welcomes a new head coach, Perry McDonald, for the 2020 season, after the departure of previous head coach Jessica Leverette Dennis at the conclusion of the first semester. McDonald brings a wealth of volleyball knowledge to the program and is looking to build off of a successful season last year. In the last two years, the team has been on the uprise, working toward restoring past glory of a historically successful volleyball program. “As I look at the young women that are on the current Oak Hall team, I see great potential and a hunger to regain that past glory,” McDonald said.
McDonald brings 15 years of high school head coaching experience to the program after starting at Eastside High School in 1996 and coaching at P.K. Yonge from 2003-2010. Over the course of his coaching career, McDonald has been named Gainesville Sun’s “Coach of the Year” four times.
Losing outside hitter Hailey Kramer to graduation is one pivotal spot the team must find a way to fill. With returning players and the addition of younger athletes, the team has the potential to be one of the best the school has seen in the last few years. Rising senior Sophie Miller is optimistic about the future of Oak Hall volleyball. “I’m looking forward to the energy which Coach Perry will bring to the Oak Hall volleyball program,” Miller stated. “He has a passion for winning and is going to push us to be the best that we can be, which is really exciting looking ahead to 2020,” she continued.
McDonald is inheriting a team which improved to 17-10 and reached the regional playoffs for the first time since 2014. In a district with competitive teams from the Tallahassee area and the panhandle, the Eagles have a tough path to advance far in the postseason. Because of the team’s strength of schedule, despite placing third in the district, the Eagles were able to secure one of eight at-large bids in the entire state to advance to the regional playoffs. In addition, the team faced tough competition in the regular season against local powerhouse programs. A highlight of the regular season was the Eagles going undefeated in the Bell Invitational Tournament and knocking off then-undefeated Bell High School, while the team was ranked No. 1 in the state for Class 1A.
Last season, the volleyball team drew some of the biggest crowds for an Oak Hall athletic event in the last few years. Historically, Oak Hall has been one of the toughest environments to play in, from the late 1990s through the first decade of the 2000s. Faculty and parents who have been around the program for awhile have said that the energy at the games last season matched and maybe even outdid that back when the program was at its peak, winning two state championships and making several other appearances. “For many years, I had the privilege of competing against [Oak Hall’s] legendary coach, Cari Martin, and the countless array of talented players that perpetually battled for area and state volleyball supremacy,” McDonald said.
Students packed the stands for nearly every home game and requested themes to dress up in as they cheered on the Eagles. The annual Dig Pink game, for breast cancer awareness, drew an enormous crowd spilling out of the bleachers, with everyone adorned in hot pink body paint, shorts, shirts, you name it. The support the team receives from the students and faculty is incredible and greatly appreciated by the team. The excitement which the crowd brought every night to games gave the team the energy it needed to pull through in tough matches.
McDonald believes the returning players have the potential to bring victory to Oak Hall, and possibly leave a legacy. “I think that the returning players are in the early stages of rebuilding a legendary, Gainesville, volleyball powerhouse and that with the right coaching and direction they have a chance to revitalize Oak Hall volleyball even further.”
Photos courtesy of Veronika Schmalfuss