By Tracy McDonald

As the summer comes to a close, Keys schools are gearing up for a brand-new year and a brand-new season of sports. While we may not experience typical seasonal transformations here in Monroe County, we can look forward to some highly anticipated changes such as fewer tourists, a slight break in the weather and the return of prep sports.  

The Florida State Athletic Association’s official starting day for students to begin practicing most fall sports was Aug 1. Before student-athletes could participate in workouts, and before coaches began their practice plans, the athletic directors at each of the three Monroe County high schools were busy updating paperwork, scheduling games and, perhaps most importantly, hiring new coaches.  

This fall, the Upper Keys will see two new coaches, but the faces will be familiar.  Returning to his role as head football coach at Coral Shores High School is Ed Holly. Joining Holly is Autumn Hager, who will be taking on the responsibility as head girls volleyball coach.

The Middle Keys will also welcome two returning coaches to new head varsity roles this season.  Darby Sheehan will step into the girls cross country position and Kelley Cruz will be taking over as the girls volleyball coach.  

Key West will see one new varsity coach this season in Mark Coleman, who will become the head cross country coach for the Conchs.

Ed Holly, Coral Shores, football

Coral Shores was buzzing with excitement when it was announced that Holly would return as head football coach this season. He built a solid program during his first stint with the Hurricanes, from 2011 through 2015, and warmly recalls the friendly rivalry among Monroe County teams. 

“I remember going to Marathon and playing in 2011. Lance Martin was the coach and Mac (Childress, head coach at MHS) was coaching with him,” said Holly, who looks forward to continuing the tradition of in-county play. “The better every team is in Monroe County, the better the competition gets and the better we all will be.”

In addition to Holly’s varsity experience, he coached at the collegiate level when he took a job as defensive coordinator at East Mississippi Community College, made famous by the documentary television series “Last Chance U,” in which Holly appeared during season 2. When asked how being a television personality compared to coaching football, Holly laughed and said, “It was difficult, actually. If I wanted to be a TV star, I would have moved to California. I’m about making better brothers, fathers and husbands by coaching.”  

From Scooba, Mississippi, Holly traveled back to Florida to coach at Westminster Christian School while maintaining his home in the Upper Keys. Now that he has returned to the place he feels most at home, Holly will get to work immediately building on the traditions already in place at Coral Shores. “Right now I’m getting to know the guys and they have a strong sense of character,” he said. “I love the great family values here. It’s fun to coach guys like that.”  

In addition to his vast experience in football, Holly has coached a variety of sports in his 30-plus-year tenure as a mentor. “At small schools, you do a little of everything,” he said, ticking off track and field, weightlifting and wrestling as other coaching roles he has held over the years.  

Holly and the Hurricanes have been busy this summer, building teamwork and unity in the area of fundraising and community service and look forward to getting back on the field this week. For a full interview with Holly, check out this week’s episode of the Keys Weekly Sports Wrap podcast.

Florida Keys Weekly Sports Wrap Podcast

In the coming weeks, look for comprehensive coverage of each high school sport’s preseason outlook, and don’t forget to check out more weekly coverage and live interviews on the Keys Weekly Sports Wrap Podcast.

Autumn Hager, Coral Shores, girls volleyball

Autumn Hager has been a valuable member of the Coral Shores coaching staff for four years as a volunteer and assistant JV and varsity coach. In addition to taking on the head varsity role, Hager started a co-ed volleyball club at the school in a sport she clearly loves. In the little free time she has between coaching, working for Monroe County’s Take Stock in Children program and being a mother to two little girls, Ava and Isla, she plays indoor and beach volleyball for fun. 

The Florence, Kentucky native enjoys traveling, boating and fishing with her family and is an avid collegiate sports fan. During her school career, Hager also participated in track and field and was her school’s homecoming queen.

It’s clear she is not merely a recreational player, though, bringing personal talent and a high level of play to the Hurricanes’ team. After playing volleyball for her high school and club teams, Hager went on to play at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky on scholarship. While there, she won two conference rings and set several individual records. This higher-level experience will be crucial to her team’s success this fall.

Darby Sheehan, Marathon, girls cross country

Darby Sheehan is relatively new to the Keys. She grew up in the suburbs of Denver and Oklahoma City and has a passion for distance running, her dogs Luckey and Zeke, and Harry Potter. She moved to the Keys just over two years ago to work as a marine mammal trainer at Dolphin Connection and immediately signed on as a volunteer pole vault coach with Marathon’s track and field team. Late last school year, Sheehan took a teaching position in the middle school. In 2022, she will add the title of varsity girls cross country coach to her list of responsibilities.

Sheehan is a veteran runner ready to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of athletes.  “I was a track athlete during my time in middle school and high school and now enjoy distance running and racing in ultramarathons,” she said. “Training for these races is how I have gained my knowledge and experience with distance running.”  

This season, she and returning coach Jim Murphy have worked out a plan to help turn Marathon into a perennial powerhouse of runners. “This year, coach Murphy and I have decided we would like to work on strength with the team,” said Sheehan. “Running and racking up miles is important for distance runners, but so is strength training. Working on building strength and speed will not only help the team become better runners, but it will play a pivotal role in helping prevent injuries as they progress in their running seasons and careers.” 

Whether their new focus pays off will become apparent in late August when regular season races begin. The Fins’ competition schedule has yet to be finalized.

Kelley Cruz, Marathon, girls volleyball

Cruz certainly is not new to Marathon, nor is she new to coaching Dolphin sports. Born and raised in the Keys, she was a standout athlete, playing Division I soccer at FIU before making the return to her hometown to teach at Marathon High.  

Last year, she was the head boys soccer coach and JV volleyball coach. This year, she has stepped up to the varsity level in girls volleyball, and is making the most of the opportunity by picking up right where the team left off last season. “KB Free (former head coach Kevin Freeman) left me with a group of young women that are dedicated to the game,” she said. “Getting to work with them this year should be fun and challenging.” 

Cruz spoke highly of Freeman and described herself as his “understudy,” adding, “One thing that I will personally be working on is how to maintain Coach Freeman’s organizational skills. Not only was he a great coach to his players, but also a great coach to the JV and middle school.”

Cruz will rely on a positive mindset to advance the skills of her team and individual players, explaining that positivity “brings the ability to allow the players to take the lead.” She and the Lady Fins will bring their positivity to the courts for the first time on Thursday, Aug. 18 for a preseason tournament at home.

Mark Coleman, Key West, cross country

Key West High School’s lone varsity hire this fall is Coleman, who moved here nearly 10 years ago and has been teaching first at Sigsbee and now at Key West High School. He is no newcomer to coaching, adding a local youth running program last year to his long list of coaching experiences with youth and adult runners.

The Maryland native holds several state championships in running, including his favorite event, the 800m. He has competed on the track and in triathlons and Ironman events, and attributes his successes to a strong work ethic and love of the sport. “The nice thing about distance runners is you can work really hard and get good, so that’s why I love running and working with these kids, because they just put their nose to the grindstone and have a little bit of grit and can get pretty far,” he said.  

In addition to his teaching certifications, which include science, physical education, health and exceptional student education, Coleman boasts multiple advanced training certifications. The team can expect to learn a multitude of ways to hone the nuances of the sport and to improve their times. Coleman plans to focus on “really working on pacing and strength” as well as proper breathing, functional movements and working the hills as well as flats.  

Clearly a fan of the sport, Coleman described distance running as “a beautiful, pure thing.” Part of his philosophy is integrating the “why” with the “do.” 

“I think it’s important to teach them why they’re doing the things they do instead of just going out and saying ‘Do this,’” he said. “I think that will help them develop an appreciation and understanding.”   

Coleman and Justin Martin, Key West’s athletic director, are finalizing the Conchs’ cross country schedule this week.

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