Volleyball: This Haybaler can dig it

Nicole Andrade, a junior libero, has been instrumental in the team's 15-2 start.

When the San Benito High girls volleyball team is involved in a competitive match, Nicole Andrade never comes off the court. The junior libero is one of four players on the squad—Marisa Villegas, Kieley Hoskins and Lauren Sabbatini are the others—who play all six rotations.

That means Andrade has a well-rounded game and consistently does her job. As a libero, Andrade is counted upon to pass with precision and make the spectacular dig on occasion. Haybalers coach Ruth Testman said Andrade has done that and more.

“I think she’s the best libero in the league,” Testman said. “She totally encompasses everything our defense is about. She’s got a great serve, and she’s a really good strategic player, too. She’ll see things that I won’t see, and we’ll make adjustments together as a team.”

Andrade possesses cat-quick reflexes, a keen sense of where the ball is headed and strong hand-eye coordination that allows her to make solid passes throughout an entire match. It takes discipline and focus to play just as well in Game 1 as in Game 5, and Andrade has been able to develop a stronger mental game to go with her physical skills.

“A lot of the game is mental, and I think over the years I’ve grown stronger and stronger,” said Andrade, who has been a varsity player since her freshman year. “In tight game situations, I get more excited than nervous now. Coming into the varsity my freshman year was kind of scary and nerve-wracking, but I’ve been able to build up my confidence so when the game gets tough, I can push through.”

In a five-set loss to Notre Dame-Salinas last season, Andrade played perhaps her best match of her volleyball career. Digging practically everything in sight and communicating well with her teammates, Andrade was superb defensively. She dove all over the court for one-fisted digs, made dozens of perfect passes and played every point as if it was her last.

“She’s definitely been one of the keys to our success the last couple of years,” Testman said.

The Balers entered Thursday’s action at 15-2 overall and 3-0 in league. Tuesday, they beat Notre Dame-Salinas in four sets. Andrade has grown from a role player—she was a defensive specialist as a freshman—to being named one of the team captains this season.

“I really feel like a leader out there this year,” she said.

Andrade expressed great joy in playing with her teammates, many of whom played on the same Hollister Crush club team before they entered high school. Andrade has been playing volleyball with Hoskins since they were 5 years old, and their cohesiveness shows on the court.

Andrade didn’t start playing organized volleyball until she was 12, partly a result of no club team in the area at the time having a team for her age group. Andrade played soccer growing up, but she always had volleyball in her mind. Once Andrade took up the game, she never looked back.

“I did club volleyball and club soccer in my freshman year,” she said. “But sophomore year I decided to commit fully to volleyball, because I love the game and my teammates.”

Andrade grew up with three older brothers: Ryan, a 2005 San Benito High graduate, and twins Jason and Justin, a pair of 2007 San Benito graduates who went on to compete in diving and baseball respectively, at UC Davis. Even though none of the brothers played organized volleyball, the Andrade family spent plenty of time playing the game any time they were at the beach or in their backyard.

“My brothers and I have a really good bond, and they definitely made me the athlete I am because they were tough on me when it came to sports,” she said. “That built my character.”

It shows.

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