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(E) Croatian Antonia Perhat, setter for Lancers
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/11/2004 | Sports | Unrated
(E) Croatian Antonia Perhat, setter for Lancers


Croatian Antonia Perhat, setter for Lancers


Lancers take aim at junior college volleyball title


BRADENTON -- They've come from all over the world seeking a second chance. What they've gotten is an opportunity of a lifetime.

The undefeated Manatee Community College volleyball team, ranked sixth in the country, begins state tournament play today with its eye on a national championship. It supersedes anything the players had in mind when they gathered for their first practice last August in a scene that resembled a United Nations convention.

Alicia Stritz, one of the few area women on the team, joined MCC after she gave up basketball because she could not regain the speed she lost when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament as a senior at Out-Of-Door-Academy.

Antonia Perhat, the Lancers' setter from Croatia, came to MCC when her college of choice, Oral Roberts University, had too many setters and couldn't make good on the scholarship she was promised when she left her country.

Vanessa Targino from Brazil tried out for the team because she needed scholarship money to attend college. The oldest player at 25, she was a first-team Suncoast Conference selection.

Palmetto High graduate Rachel Taylor came to MCC because she is a self-described "homebody," who couldn't bear to be away from her family.

Alexandra Karastathi, the Lancers' 6-foot-2 middle arrived from Athens, Greece, needing time to heal a surgically repaired shoulder that scared Division I coaches away, at least temporarily. She is the 2004 Suncoast Conference Player of the Year.

Judit Vass, who was born in Hungary and came to Sarasota at 14 where she played for Booker High, was just looking for a place to play when she asked for a tryout at MCC. She responded by leading the Lancers with 444 digs and was a first-team Suncoast Conference choice.

Marjolein Vermeersch from Belgium, another six-foot-plus hitter, came to Sarasota on a visit, decided to try out for the team on a whim and hasn't left.

The orchestrator of this international symphony is Ken Deterding, Suncoast Conference Coach of the Year. He wanted to coach volleyball so badly he agreed to work on a sod farm in Arcadia after leaving his coaching duties at Idaho State because he couldn't bear the freezing weather anymore.

Now 48, Deterding subsequently founded the Gulf Coast Juniors Volleyball Club in Clearwater, which has gained statewide prominence.

The girls have come together and after running to a 23-0 record and a Suncoast Conference Championship, the goals are much loftier. They are talking about bringing home the school's first national volleyball championship.

Deterding thinks that's a real possibility, and his opinion should be respected. Before leaving Idaho State for Arcadia, the Illinois native traveled throughout the Midwest and was highly successful coaching women's volleyball.

What he likes best about this MCC team is its athleticism and attitude.

"This could be the most talented team I've ever had," Deterding said.

The girls said the bond they have formed, despite sometimes having to fight their way through various versions of English accents to communicate, is their biggest asset.

They all agree a key to their success is Perhat, a 5-foot-11, sleek setter, who looks more like a point guard than a volleyball standout.

She is quick, tall and has a 25-inch vertical jump.

Being left-handed is a bonus because it throws the other teams off, Deterding said.

On the shy and quiet side, Perhat feels she landed in a fantasy world ever since she stepped off the plane in Florida. She leads the Lancers with 643 assists and added 226 kills and 64 aces.

"In Croatia, you can't mix sports and education. You have to do one or the other, but here they are connected and that's why I came," she said. "I was in a cultural shock when I first got here. I couldn't breathe because it was so hot and humid. In Croatia, people never say hello and how are you doing to people they don't know. People here always saying 'I am sorry; I am sorry,' when they don't have to. It makes you feel good."

Karastathi, the Lancers' youngest player, who leads the team with 346 kills and has 36 blocks, looks as if she could muscle her way around the low post if she ever decided to play basketball.

"I like volleyball because there is no touch with the other team. It's everything about the ball," the 17-year-old Karastathi said. "Basketball is more of a touch game, and sometimes you get into fighting, which I don't like. Volleyball, it's just you and the ball."

The 5-foot-10 Taylor, who has 254 kills, said the camaraderie between the girls is its strongest asset.

"We don't have a lot of cat fights and we don't talk about each other a lot," Taylor said. "If we didn't get along we wouldn't do that well on the court. We care about each other, and that makes us play better as a team."

MCC opens state tournament play today at Brevard Community College in Titusville. If the Lancers win the Florida Gulf District section of the tournament it qualifies for the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament, slated for Nov. 22-24 in West Plains, Mo.

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