Prep Volleyball: Mustangs improving despite loss

Gilroy's Ryan Nguyen (1) and Mark Oliveira (24) prepare for the serve as San Benito players look on during their game Thursday at Gilroy High.

GILROY — The Gilroy boys volleyball team is taking things one step at a time.
Despite being swept 3-0 by San Benito on Thursday, Mustangs coach Paolo Palao said his team had much to be proud of.
On a squad that features nine underclassmen, the smallest improvement speaks volumes. Even in this game, the progress was evident as the Mustangs went from losing the first set 3-25, the second 8-25 to the third 16-25.
“We know we’re young, but we’re working everyday to really push our opponents to play hard ball,” Gilroy coach Paolo Palao said. “I want our guys to know that there’s a lot expected of them at the varsity level, but everyday and every game is a learning experience. As coaches we’re doing our best to teach them how to play competitively and to play with character. At the same time we need them — not to step it, they’ve stepped it up — just to get that fire. It’s early in the season, it could go either way.”
San Benito capitalized on Gilroy’s errors in Game 1, allowing a few early points before going a 19-point run. Balers’ libero Conor Clayton racked up three aces in that set. Clayton finished with five aces and a kill.
“He (Clayton) was going to be my outside hitter, but I move him to libero because we needed ball control and he’s got wonderful ball control,” San Benito coach Veronica Companion said. “He can swing really well from the outside both at libero and outside hitter and just put the ball away for us.”
The win was just what the doctor ordered for San Benito, who entered the game with an 0-2 mark. Gabriel Ventura came up big with six kills and a block, helping usher in a new era for Balers volleyball.
“It’s a brand new team this year,” Companion said. “There are several returners, but they weren’t our marquee players, but they’re stepping up to be our marquee players. They have to get used to that pressure and being able to execute under that pressure. It’s a work in progress. I know that they can do it, it’s just a matter of getting the reps and getting the time on with their team and then they’ll be good.”
Junior Kade McDermott led Gilroy with three blocks in the match, including two in Game 3. While the final set was a clear sign of improvement, Palao said he wants to see that same passion in game — not just the last one.
“The third game we just asked them ‘How badly do you want it? How badly do you want to win?’ You can say I want it bad, but we need you to show it,” the Mustangs coach said. “They’re learning and they want it — they want it bad. What we need to realize as a team is we need to want it the entire time — not just in the last 10 minutes of a match.”
San Benito will play its home opener at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday against Salinas.
Gilroy (0-3) will play one of its biggest games of the year against crosstown rival Christopher at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at home.
“I really want our guys to turn it up a bit,” Palao said. “It should be fun; that should be a loud game.”

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