Volleyball: Balers win 1st league title since 2007

Lexi Chavarria, left, Marisa Villegas and Camille Finley prepare for action during a three-game win over Christopher in a Nov. 3 match.

The San Benito High girls volleyball team could use a day off. A three-game sweep over Christopher on Nov. 3 wrapped up a brutal four-day stretch in which the team played six matches, including five in one day at the Milpitas Spikefest II tournament on Oct. 31.
The team started Spikefest II play at 8 a.m. and didn’t conclude action until 12 hours later.
“Saturday was a long day. We’re tired and we’re ready for a break,” Haybalers coach Ruth Testman said.
With the win over Christopher, San Benito (28-5 overall, 10-1 MBL Gabilan) clinched at least a share of the league championship for the first time since 2007. The Balers can win the title outright with an expected victory over Watsonville on Thursday (this edition went to press before the game).
As the playoffs approach, Testman has her players focusing on communication. It’s such an important ingredient to a team’s success that Testman is now making her team do a liner for every time they don’t communicate during a match. In the team’s last six matches—against Christopher and five in the Spikefest II tournament—Testman noted 11 instances in which players failed to communicate.
“Communicating is the easiest part of the game and gets everyone into the game,” she said. “We know when we get to the playoffs, we’re going to be playing some bigger, badder teams. So we’re going to have to work on our voice.”
There’s a strong chance the Balers will earn one of the top two seeds in the
Central Coast Section Division I playoff bracket. The Balers are deep, balanced and play with tremendous chemistry, characteristics that make them a strong favorite to advance to the championship match.
However, Testman knows she can’t let her foot off the proverbial pedal, as the team needs to fine-tune some aspects of their game before the postseason starts.
After a spirited five-game loss to Notre Dame-Salinas on Oct. 27, Testman went over the game video and used it to make refinements in the team’s play.
“We’ve been reviewing a lot of things on my trusty little iPad here,” she said. “There’s always a lesson to learn; unfortunately, we’re not used to losing, so it’s a new sensation to us. Even though we lost that game (to Notre Dame), the girls played their hearts out. There are one to two things that we would’ve done differently, but other than that everyone was playing phenomenal. We were super depressed after that game, but something worked out. If we win on Thursday, we’re rightful winners and No. 1 in league.”
It’s been a memorable season for the Balers, who took control of the Gabilan after beating Notre Dame in four hotly-contested games in the teams’ first meeting on Oct. 1. After losing a five-game heartbreaker to the Spirits in the teams’ rematch, it looked as if the two programs would end up sharing the league title.
However, defending champion Salinas upset Notre Dame two weeks ago, paving the way for the Balers to win the championship outright.
“When we found out Salinas beat Notre Dame, we were jumping on the bed screaming,” Testman said.
San Benito has a talent-rich roster, led by Kieley Hoskins, Marisa Villegas, Camille Finley, Lexi Chavarria, Noel Chavarria, Lauren Sabbatini, Haley Leifheit, Nicole Andrade and Madisyn Gutierrez-Urban. Now in her third year on the varsity squad, Villegas has been nothing short of spectacular.
“I can always count on Marisa,” Testman said. “She plays at a high level all the time, and you know what you’re going to get from her from game to game.”
The team did lose a key reserve in middle blocker Annie Breger, who also gave the squad versatility playing the right side.
Christopher coach Brian Calimpong, who knows some of the San Benito players after previously coaching with one of Hollister’s club volleyball teams several years ago, said the Balers have a team that can make a playoff championship run.
“Their serving was tough, and we couldn’t get in system all night,” he said. “That was more of their serving then us having bad passers. We’re usually a good passing team, but they kept us off-balance all night. As quick as they run some of their attacks, it’s tough to defend. Coach Ruth and coach Marlene (assistant coach Marlene Villegas) has got them going on another good run here.”
San Benito has improved in every facet of the game from a year ago, including defensively. When they’re communicating and on point, the Balers dig up balls that most teams wouldn’t get to.
“Playing a tough defensive team like San Benito, it’s tough because you can absolutely decimate balls and they dig them,” Calimpong said. “It’s a little disheartening at times.”
The Balers would love nothing more than to be the debut event at the newly renovated Mattson Gym, which the school is hoping to open as soon as possible. After all, winter sports teams started practicing on Nov. 2, and there’s a tremendous backlog for gym time now with two basketball teams and a volleyball team and only one gym.
“We would love to open the new gym up with our first playoff match,” Testman said. “That would be just great.”

Leave your comments