^pBy VINNIE PORTELL

Sports Editor

Even before he could walk, Jose Gonzalez had a volleyball in his hand.

The son of a professional volleyball player in Puerto Rico, it wasn’t long before Gonzalez developed his own passion for the game.

He went on to play briefly in college at the University of Puerto Rico-Carolina campus, but coaching the game is where he’s found the most joy.

So when Gonzalez knew he was moving to Punta Gorda from the Orlando area last year for a job opportunity, he Facebook messaged Venice coach Brian Wheatley with an idea.

“He had heard that we had a guys high school team two years ago,” Wheatley said. “He reached out and said, ‘If you’re ever interested in me coaching, here’s my background.’ We met a few times and he was able to coach our guys’ club team this past fall.

“I did some background on him and knew that he knows his stuff. I’m very, very particular with who I bring in to my high school coaching staff.”

Once he got settled in his new position as the Health Information Management Director for Bayfront Health, Gonzalez got right back into coaching — leading the Venetian Bay boys club team. He was such a hit with the team that he’s joining Wheatley’s staff as the freshmen team coach — replacing Lyndsey Cantees, who has added on to her job responsibilities with Sarasota County Schools.

He has coached both boys and girls volleyball, and most recently has experience working with Top Select club volleyball and Apopka High School.

A setter in his playing days, Gonzalez has a knack for the technical aspects of the game as well as having a good understanding of how plays are supposed to be run.

He’s helped develop some Division-II players over the past few years, and his impact with the boys volleyball team was easy to see this past season.

Gonzalez coached Venetian Bay last fall as an introduction to Venice volleyball, and the players responded by finishing the season as the No. 10 team in the state — going 16-6 overall and 8-2 in their district.

Along with his intense passion for the game, Gonzalez brings over a bit of Puerto Rican flare to Venice. He joins fellow Puerto Rican Jose Velez on the coaching staff, and together the two bring an energy to the game that Wheatley said is invaluable.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm to the gym, and I think our kids are really gonna like him,” Wheatley said. “I know the boys got a lot out of him. The growth that they had was tremendous, and it was a big reason we had such a successful high school season this year.

“A lot of coaches say the same thing, but say it in different ways. I like the way he teaches the game. He’s very passionate and he’s a disciplinarian. He wants things done the right way, and that’s hard to find.”

Gonzalez will officially begin working with the Venice girls volleyball teams at the end of the month when the Lady Indians hold their tryouts for the 2019 season.

His goals for the first season on the job are to see each of his freshmen players advance to either the JV or varsity team next season, and to make sure they grow as people as well.

“I really love to develop players, that’s why I do this,” Gonzalez said. “I have guys in Division-II of the NCAA who call me back and I give them help. There’s players who don’t have much money who I try to give opportunities to who wouldn’t otherwise have them.

“I just love to help develop people.”

Venice volleyball alumni game

The Venice girls volleyball team will host the 24th annual alumni game on Monday, July 15 at 6 p.m. at the TeePee.

Admission is free to the public as coach Brian Wheatley and the Indians invite fans out to watch former Venice legends compete against this year’s crop of talent.

While the alumni currently hold a 12-11 advantage, the students have taken the last three matchups.

Lady Indians tryouts

After losing 10 senior players from this past season, the Lady Indians will have several holes to fill on their roster.

Anyone interested in joining the team can attend tryouts at 8 a.m. at the TeePee on July 29.

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