Volleyball: Balers out to end league title drought

Kieley Hoskins, left, Haley Leifheit and Marisa Villegas are the three captains for the San Benito High girls volleyball team.

For the San Benito High girls volleyball team, the future is now. The Haybalers return all but one starter from last year’s team, they have a dynamic new coach in Ruth Testman and enough talent to compete with most of the best teams in the Central Coast Section.
“There’s honestly no weak link athletically or personality-wise,” said Haley Leifheit, a returning senior middle blocker. “We have a lot of talent, so people are always fighting for spots, which makes competition strong.”
Marisa Villegas, a junior outside hitter, said the team’s on-court chemistry will be a huge difference-maker.
“The way we’ve been working together in practice, it’s going to show well on the court in the matches,” she said. “I really like what I’m seeing from all of my teammates.”
The team expects to do what it does every season—compete for a Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship. The Balers haven’t won a league title since 2007, a drought they’re itching to break.
Along with Leifheit and Villegas, San Benito returns an outstanding sophomore class in Kieley Hoskins (setter), Anne Breger (middle blocker), Noel Chavarria (libero), Lauren Sabbatini (outside hitter) and Nicole Andrade (libero). Other key returning players include junior middle blocker Camille Finley and senior opposite Lexi Chavarria.
San Benito should be strong offensively, with hitters such as Breger, Finley, Leifheit, Sabbatini and Villegas accounting for most of the attacks. Sabbatini has looked strong with her swings, so much that Testman has called her Popeye in practice, Leifheit said.
The Balers certainly have the setter to get their hitters the ball; Hoskins’ deft hands and ability to turn a so-so pass into a good set is a luxury not afforded to every team. Leifheit and Villegas have been impressed with Hoskins’ court awareness and agility.
“Kieley gets her hands on every ball, whether it’s a great pass or terrible pass,” Villegas said.
The Haybalers opened up the season last weekend in the Milpitas Spikefest, finishing 3-2, good for 10th place out of 32 teams. They beat traditional Central Coast Section powers St. Ignatius, Homestead and Los Gatos to earn second place in the bronze division. Matches were best-of-three, and the Balers went the distance against SI, Homestead and Los Gatos.
They defeated SI 15-12 in Game 3 before beating both Homestead and Los Gatos 15-9 in the final set. Against SI, Villegas had 12 kills and 11 digs, Sabbatini had nine kills, Leifheit served four aces and Nicole Andrade produced nine digs. Against Homestead, Villegas had nine kills, Hoskins 24 assists and Andrade and Noel Chavarria nine digs each.
In the victory over Los Gatos, Villegas finished with 14 kills and eight digs and Hoskins had 20 assists. Leifheit is in her fourth year on the varsity and Villegas her third. Both players are brimming with optimism because of the returning talent along with the addition of Testman, who played at Chico State. Testman replaced Dean Askanas, who coached the team for the last 10 years and was well-liked and regarded within the program.
“Obviously, we miss Dean and I was really close with him,” Leifheit said. “It’s definitely different with Ruth; she runs more fast paced stuff so we have a lot of new plays and I think it’s really exciting and good for the team. It’s going to be interesting and a whole new dynamic with Ruth as our coach, but I like it and I think the rest of the girls do, too.”
Said Villegas: “Everything is going great so far. Things are a little different, but it’s a good different. Ruth has brought a lot of drills that are new to us and kind of makes us be on our toes more and be ready for the fast quick hits and quick plays. She’s working great with us and we’re working great work with her.”
Hoskins, Leifheit and Villegas were selected to be the team captains, and Leifheit has made an inspirational return after suffering a right knee patellar dislocation in each of the last two years. In both instances, the injury occurred during a match. The fact that Leifheit has come back again points to her resolve and determination.
“It was really hard the second time because I thought my leg was strong enough, but I guess it wasn’t,” Leifheit said. “It’s not a confidence booster, and it got me down knowing I had to go through the whole rehabilitation process again. But I feel really strong and comfortable now, more so than in the past.”
Leifheit feels her defense has gotten stronger, including the ability to read hitters and where they’re going and what they’re going to do with the ball. The best middle blockers not only have superior physical skills, but the ability to anticipate where and what type of shot the attacker is going to unleash.
If an attacker plans on tipping the ball, the blocker can wait and not even jump, knowing a soft shot is coming over the net. Villegas said Leifheit looks strong, especially on defense.
“Haley is looking great, and I can hardly tell she had an injury,” Villegas said. “She’s awesome out there with all the blocks she’s getting.”
Now in her third year on the varsity, Villegas has been a reliable player on the outside, consistently hitting balls with authority while giving a strong effort in practice and the matches. Villegas has high hopes since most of the players from last year’s team returned not just a year older, but a year improved.
“You look at the sophomores now and they’re looking great,” she said. “We’re a very athletic team, not just in volleyball, but as overall athletes.”

Leave your comments