Geneva success story, career wins, region news

Hollie Benjumea had no master plan to build a girls volleyball district dynasty when she worked a volleyball camp at The Geneva School in the summer of 2006.

She was just a 25-year-old college grad in search of a career path when that camp connection paid off.

“I was a mid-year college graduate and I was just trying to figure out where I could find a teaching position to get started,” she remembers. “It just so happened that a physical education teaching position became available.”

Benjumea signed on to teach and coach volleyball for what was then one of the smallest high school programs in Central Florida. She never left.

“They let me stay,” Benjumea said with a laugh on Tuesday. “It’s been great.”

For both parties.

The school has had varsity girls volleyball since 1999 but never reached region play until Benjumea arrived after playing college volleyball for Charleston Southern. She led the Knights to a district runner-up finish in her debut season of 2006.

Geneva, a Christian school that has campuses in Winter Park and Casselberry, has been a model of consistency ever since. The Knights have reached regional rounds in all 15 seasons under Benjumea. They claimed the program’s 10th consecutive Class 2A district title with a 25-18, 25-19, 16-25, 25-15 win against City of Life Christian last Thursday.

The district title streak ranks second in area history and is one shy of the record.

Orangewood Christian won 11 in a row from 2000 through 2010 under the direction of longtime coach Diane Langmo, who is still in charge of that program.

Geneva is now tied with Oviedo, which won 10 in a row under 25-year coach Anita Carlson from 1981 through 1990.

Geneva won a 2018 state championship — its first and only in any sport. It was a state runner-up in 2016 and 2017 and state semifinalist last season. But this has been a rebuilding effort after seeing four girls who were four-year stalwarts graduate. That included current college players Connelly Renfro (High Point University) and Riley Thomas (Millersville University).

The Knights have typically had only a few year-round club players in their lineup but have won consistently by building solid supporting casts around a few standouts. That formula has been a challenge this year for the Knights (11-4), who will be home against Merritt Island Christian (11-4) in a region quarterfinal on Thursday night at 7.

“It’s kind of been like starting over,” Benjumea said. “It’s been a weird season for everybody with the COVID protocols and only being able to play the teams within the pod we’re in. We’ve run a different lineup every single match we’ve played. And we’ve had limited practices because of the protocols the school has in place. It’s been hard to get into a rhythm and get these girls comfortable playing with each other.”

The lone senior on the roster is Frances Aguayo, who toggles between the libero and setter positions. Sophomore Olive Kyle is a year-round player