Prep volleyball preview: Volleyball teams focus on energy, teamwork in 2013
Aug 29, 2013 | 2478 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Volleyball team ready to start the season
Merinesa Saaga fires the ball over the net during practice for the West High volleyball team on Tuesday, Aug 27.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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The start of the fall sports season on Friday, Aug. 30, brings five local high school volleyball teams to the court.

West, Tracy and Kimball are all aiming for repeat trips to playoffs. Millennium’s team has been building toward a big year, and Delta Charter has a new coach and a renewed interest in the program.

West regroups with playoffs in sights

The West High volleyball team’s chances for a repeat trip to playoffs depend on how fast a new Wolf Pack team adjusts to the varsity pace.

Only a few players returned from the 2012 team, which went 21-11 overall and 7-3 in the Tri-City Athletic League. A second-place TCAL finish — behind St. Mary’s and in a tie with Tokay — earned the Wolf Pack its first trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs since 2005.

Coach Christine Toon is confident the new players have the skills to succeed this year.

“They all played club ball,” Toon said. “I’m just trying to get them to varsity speed, incorporate them with our seniors.”

Returning junior Kate Bell said everyone should be ready when the TCAL season begins in October.

“We have a lot of people who hustle and go to the ball,” Bell said. “Our league is tough, but they’re great competition. I know we’ll be able to keep up.”

The two returning seniors are Megan Toon and Merinesa Saaga. Megan Toon said reaching tough shots and making passes will depend on how well players communicate.

“We do a lot of team bonding,” she said. “Once you have that bond, the practices become easier. We start moving as a team instead of as six individuals on a court.”

West opens the season Friday at Turlock High.

Experienced Bulldogs return to court

After a couple of years of young teams, the Tracy High volleyball squad boasts a wealth of varsity experience.

Even with just one returning senior — middle blocker Samantha Gonzalez, in her third year at the varsity level — the Bulldogs have three juniors and a sophomore who played on the 2012 squad.

Tracy went 20-11 last year, finishing the San Joaquin Athletic Association season in third place with a 6-4 record, and reached the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Gonzalez said the team has developed camaraderie and a shared goal to finish higher in league and go further in playoffs, thanks to year-round volleyball club play.

“We need to move together and be quicker together,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what we’re working on right now.

Experienced players include junior setter Mika Fithian and junior libero Casey Eddy, both all-SJAA first team players retuning for their third varsity year. Michelle Laiolo, a junior, and Grace Murphy, a sophomore, are also back.

Coach Mahina Tankersley said the juniors who are transitioning to varsity have already embraced the culture of teamwork and cooperation.

“The combination of what we have this year, it really works,” Tankersley said. “It is awesome to see this at the beginning of the season.”

Tracy’s first match is Thursday, Sept. 5, at home against West.

Jaguars aim to be force in VOL

Kimball High volleyball coach Suzette Mendonca looks forward to seeing how far the players she started coaching as freshmen will progress in 2013.

“It’s easy, when you come up with them, to know what you’re going to build on,” said Mendonca, who is in her second year as varsity coach after coaching the sophomore team in 2011 and the freshman team in 2010.

Among seven returning players are five seniors. Mendonca said the newcomers are adjusting to her system and the speed of varsity volleyball.

“We’re homing in on what they already can do, focus on that for now, and in practice we’ll build all of the skills,” she said.

Iris Nelson, a senior who was an all-Valley Oak League first team selection in 2012, said this year marks a smooth transition.

“What I see as a senior, seeing these younger players come up, is that it’s so great to know that we’re building our program, and that we’ve built it from year one,” Nelson said.

Kimball went 12-15-1 overall and 10-4 in the VOL, finishing in third place behind Sonora and Oakdale, and was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Senior Vanessa Cerda said the team has learned from its VOL rivals.

“They played really well together and had a lot of really good hitting,” Cerda said. “That’s what we need to work on, to be able to defend them.”

Kimball opens its season with a Sac-Joaquin Section Foundation scholarship benefit game Tuesday, Sept. 3, against visiting Millennium.

Falcons ready for best season yet

Most of the Millennium volleyball team that narrowly missed a postseason berth in 2012 has returned to push the program forward in 2013.

Senior outside hitter Morgan Johnson, in her fourth year with the Falcons, said her teammates are fired up for a season that she expects will be Millennium volleyball’s best yet.

“We’re just ready to dominate this year,” Johnson said. “We were only one game short last year of making playoffs, so we’re ready this year.”

The Falcons had a 10-7 overall record in 2012 and placed third in the Central California Athletic Alliance (5-7)

behind Big Valley Christian of Modesto and Stone Ridge Christian of Merced.

Johnson expects that stronger communication and team unity will be apparent when Millennium faces its first opponent.

“I think it will take just one game to knock us all together,” Johnson said.

Johnson and fellow senior Dejah Barney, also in her fourth year on varsity, were both all-CCAA first team players in 2012. Coach Pamela Adams said two other fourth-year seniors, Bethal Zelalem and Ericka Dominguez, and some experienced junior players will fill out the starting roster.

“We’re a more solid team this year,” Adams said. “Most of them have been playing together three or four years now. They know how (their teammates play) and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are.”

The Falcons’ first game is Friday against Gustine High at West High.

Dragons emphasize renewed focus

Delta Charter High School’s volleyball team hopes to benefit from a greater emphasis on sports at the New Jerusalem campus.

The program starts its fifth year with a new home gym, the Teranishi Events Center, and a new coach, Sara Sharpton.

Sharpton started practices Monday, Aug. 26, a couple of weeks later than most teams, leaving the Dragons only a week to get ready for their first match Tuesday, Sept. 3, at home against Venture Academy of Stockton.

“I think the fact that we have new people coming in that already know about volleyball will really be helpful,” she said.

The team can also build on previous seasons. The roster includes Samantha Lillak, a junior, and Katlin Good, a sophomore, who hope to see the Dragons move up in the Mountain Valley League after going 2-14 in league competition last year.

“The major thing that’s going to give me confidence as a player is our new gym,” Lillack said. “I believe (the program) is getting a lot stronger. More people are coming to it.”

Good said the 2013 team is determined to strengthen Delta Charter’s athletic reputation.

“It shows that we can be more like the other traditional schools,” Good said.

• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or

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