Despite a season filled with a coaching change, a plethora of injuries and a number of players entering the season late because of winter sports, San Benito has been, at times, dominant on the volleyball court.
Behind the return of Robert Henderson, and the continuous strong play of assist-leader David Hawks, San Benito thwarted Watsonville in three games Tuesday. San Benito won 25-20, 25-21 and 25-18.
Despite a battle between two 6-1 Tri-County Athletic League teams, it was a stunningly easy win for the Balers.
San Benito controlled the contest from the onset, trailing only twice during the match’s three games.
“All I’ve been hearing about lately is how Watsonville beat Gilroy and stomped them,” head coach Emily Tonascia said. “And we lost to Gilroy at the beginning of the season — we were still missing a few players — so I was kind of nervous because we haven’t seen a lot of competition yet. So I didn’t know how they would respond. But they were so ready to play.”
Hawks once again led the San Benito offensive strike, but it was the Balers defense at the net that allowed them to take control.
“That was big for us,” Tonascia said. Carlos Gutierrez and Hawks swarmed the net for San Benito. Gutierrez led the Balers with five blocks and also gathered three kills during the victory.
The Balers targeted the net and the Watsonville outside hitter, Gutierrez said.
“We saw that their outside hitter was really their only good hitter so we knew he was going to be set up really the whole game,” he said. “So we were focused on him.”
That focus forced Watsonville into mistakes and allowed Hawks to take over. In the few return shots Watsonville had, Dylan Lomanto dug out 14 balls for San Benito.
Tristan Russell — seven kills —and Isaiah Acfalle — 14 kills — benefited from the Balers outstanding defense.
“They were huge for us,” Tonascia said.
The biggest boost, though, came with the return of outside hitter Henderson.
“We tried out a brand-new lineup today,” Hawks said. “We got one of our best outside hitters back in Robert Henderson and our new lineup worked out really strong, and with practice it will be super strong. He has a lot of experience on varsity and club. So he is a very smart and an experienced player out there.”
Henderson did have his struggles, though. In the match’s second game, Henderson and the Balers couldn’t put the finishing touches on the victory.
With the Balers up 19-9, Watsonville started to find some rhythm.
The Wildcatz struck back with 10 of the game’s next 12 points, targeting the Balers left side of the court.
“In the second game there was a little bit of a falter, but that’s bound to happen,” Tonascia said.
Acfalle, who was resting on the bench during a majority of the Watsonville run, re-entered the game and scored the Baler’s final three points.
It was the only point in the match that Tonascia worried, she said.
“It shows that we can take a hit and keep going,” Tonascia said. “We can get pushed down but we can get back up and keep going, which is very important. I’ve played on teams before when you get pushed down, you stay down. I don’t want to coach a team like that. I’m glad they can pick it up. That’s awesome and that’s not something that can be taught.”
The victory pulls the Balers — 7-1 in the TCAL and 12-2 overall — into a tie for first place in the TCAL’s Valley Division with 12-8 Gilroy. Monterey leads the TCAL Mountain Division with a 8-0 record in TCAL play.
The Balers are already looking ahead to their April 5 match with the Toreadors.
“This was a measuring stick for Monterey,” Hawks said. “Monterey is the next big opponent on our schedule, and this is the measuring stick to see where we are at. We played hard and we will be ready for Monterey.”