Prep Volleyball: Balers spiking the competition

The San Benito High girls volleyball team earned the No. 2 seed in the Central Coast Section Division I tournament.

High tempo, high octane, fast and furious. That’s the way the San Benito High girls volleyball team has played this season, and the frenetic pace has left most of the Haybalers opponents gasping to catch their breath.
“I’m going to coach the way I know how, and that’s fast, middle and quick,” said first-year Balers coach Ruth Testman, who played middle blocker at Chico State. “These girls are so fast and talented that they’re able to do it.”
Just ask Salinas, which was no match for San Benito (14-3 entering Thursday’s match against Notre Dame-Salinas) on Sept. 29. The Balers ran roughshod over the overmatched Cowboys (1-8) in a three-game sweep. Game scores were 25-16, 25-16, 25-23.
As usual, the Balers were balanced offensively, with Marisa Villegas and Lauren Sabbatini combining for 17 kills. Villegas also had 25 digs. Camille Finley had six kills and four blocks, Kieley Hoskins had 23 assists, seven digs and three aces, Nicole Andrade produced 10 digs and Noel Chavarria finished with 15 digs.
Once again, the Balers played at a fast tempo, with Hoskins making all the right decisions. Whether it was setting to the outside with Villegas, Sabbatini and Lexi Chavarria, connecting with Finley on the slide or delivering quick sets to the middle with Haley Leifheit, the Balers have their most diversified and potent offense in several years.
Teams can’t defend one side because Hoskins does a nice job of disguising whom she’s going to set to, a byproduct of Testman installing an offense that can hurt defenses from every place on the court.
“The biggest thing is we have different drills this year and I think it’s much better because our offense confuses other teams,” Finley said. “Kieley has been doing an amazing job with her sets, and we’re just having so much fun playing the game right now.”
It doesn’t hurt that the team is off to its best start since 2007, the last time it won a league championship and advanced to the Central Coast Section Division I playoff championship match. No one knows what’s in store for the Balers this season, but they have high expectations to do well.
“A lot of the improvements the girls have made comes from believing in themselves,” Testman said. “It’s been amazing coaching these girls because they’ve been playing together for a few years, and I’ve brought some new things to the table.”
When San Benito is firing on all cylinders, it’s tough to stop. There were a couple of points from Sabbatini and Lexi Chavarria in which they blasted the ball straight down for a kill, swings that are virtually impossible to block because they’re literally rising over the block because of the great timing between their jump and when the ball is set from Hoskins.
When Finley goes on the slide, teams have to account for the outside and middle, giving Finley a great opportunity to get a one-on-one matchup with a blocker. And because she’s coming at an angle, Finley’s swings have a good chance of earning the Balers a point.
“The slide and the ones (quick set to the middle) are my favorite,” Finley said.
Salinas offered very little resistance against the Balers, who cruised in the first two games before finding themselves in a tussle late in Game 3. San Benito was up 20-18 when the Cowboys won the next four points to take a 22-20 lead. However, the Balers closed strong, with Villegas starting a match-ending 5-1 run with a kill from the left side.
Villegas has been a model of consistency since earning a starting role in her freshman year, and the third-year varsity standout is having perhaps her most efficient season yet hitting from the outside. Credit Villegas for staying driven and the fact teams can’t just stay on one side waiting for a block. That’s because the Balers have multiple players who can terminate the ball, with Hoskins delivering the proper sets.
“Kieley is like a quarterback on the team because she’s the setter,” Testman said. “She holds a lot of responsibility in terms of going to the player who’s hot, knowing what plays are working well and reading the defense.”

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