Winners! Manta Rays keeping the drama on the volleyball court, with the help of an island girl

October 28, 2021
By T Michele Walker

Lemon Bay’s girls’ varsity volleyball team, the Manta Rays are on a winning streak and they’re determined to keep it going all the way to the state championship.

On Tuesday night, the Manta Rays beat Nature Coast Tech 25-8, 25-14, 25-13 to win their Regional 4A-2 quarterfinal volleyball match.

Leading the team is Lemon Bay coach Patrick Auer and team captain Gabriela Crespo, a senior at Lemon Bay who just happens to be a graduate of The Island School. “My grandmother was raised on the island,” said Cindy Crespo, Gabriela’s mother. “And we moved to the island when Gabriela was five. She went to the Island School and then Lemon Bay, so it’s a native-girl-done-good kind of story.”

The last time Manta Rays won the district volleyball title was nine years ago. The current team is relatively new. “We haven’t been together that long,” explained Crespo. “This year we have two new seniors that just came to our school. We have four or five sophomores on our team, so last year was our first year playing at Lemon Bay.”

In an interview the day before the game against Nature Coast Tech, Crespo explained the process. “If we win this game tomorrow night, then we go on to a game next Tuesday, which is the regional semifinals. And then if we win that game, we go on to the finals for regionals. That will take place on Saturday.”

“We’re just taking it one step at a time and just going with it because I would really love to win regionals. I think we have a pretty clear path for it.”

While winning is important to Crispo and the team, it is secondary to the camaraderie on and off the court.

Crespo credits their success to teamwork and positive morale. “In years past, there’s been a lot of drama on the team but this year I feel like we don’t really have that. We all mesh together really well and we play together so well. You can see it on the court when there’s drama and it affects a lot of things.”

No matter the outcome, Crespo, who has been playing since the sixth grade, feels that this season for the Manta Rays has been a huge success. “This is my last season playing volleyball and it has already been a great season. Our team is 24-2, so I think we’ve beaten, or almost beaten the record wins for volleyball.”

Crespo takes her captain role seriously. “When she became captain, one of the first things she said is, ‘If I become captain, there’s not gonna be any drama, we’re going to get along and we’re going to have fun,” said Cindy Crespo. “To become captain, they all put their names in a basket and they had to say why they wanted to become captain. That was Gabriela’s biggest thing to her, is that she just wanted it to be fun and for it to be without the extra drama.”

Crespo is looking forward to an exciting season finale. “If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing and keep doing what we’re doing as a team, I think we have a high chance of winning and going to states, which would be really cool.”

Not bad for an island kid.

Photos provided by Cindy Crespo and TK Photoshop