At the start of Lauren Sabbatini’s sophomore season, Haybalers coach Ruth Testman gave her the nickname Popeye. Another nickname might suffice: hammer. At times, the junior outside hitter delivers a swing with such precision and authority that she bludgeons the ball through any block.
Sabbatini is one of the key players for a team that was rolling until it got swept in three sets against Monte Vista Christian on Sept. 29. Entering Thursday’s play, the Balers were in a three-way tie in first place alongside MVC and Salinas.
“It was unexpected,” Sabbatini said. “They played with a lot of heart and we didn’t. Now we have to try to figure out what we can do better.”
A varsity athlete since her freshman year, Sabbatini has developed into a tremendous all-around player. Sabbatini started the season playing all six rotations, then got substituted for on defense. But she’s earned her way back to being a six-rotation player, a testament to her commitment to work on her serve-receive skills and dedication to becoming a complete player.
“In addition to her super hard swing, Lauren has developed more off-speed shots,” Testman said.
Sabbatini had quite an off-season playing for Vision—one of the top club programs in Northern California—and teaming up with fellow Balers junior Kieley Hoskins to play beach volleyball for IMUA, a club based in Monterey. The two key highlights of Sabbatini’s summer was playing in a national tournament in Indianapolis for Vision and competing in a top-flight beach tournament in Hermosa Beach.
At nationals, Vision’s 16-and-under team finished first in the silver division. In the tournament in Hermosa Beach, Sabbatini and Hoskins played in front of dozens of scouts. The competition in Southern California, of course, was as good as advertised and then some.
“The competition was really high and insane,” she said. “Kieley and I aren’t the tallest people around, and it seemed like everyone we played were huge and amazing.”
Sabbatini’s work ethic has brought her to the forefront for one of the top teams in the Central Coast Section. When last year’s high school season ended, it was only two weeks before Sabbatini jumped into the club season. From November to July, Sabbatini played indoors for Vision before hitting the beach circuit once nationals were over.
If San Benito plans on advancing to the CCS Division I playoff final this season, it’ll need to communicate defensively, be mentally tough, serve well and have Sabbatini play like an offensive juggernaut. With a solid vertical leap and fluid arm swing, Sabbatini is capable of doing just that.
Sabbatini, Hoskins and teammate Nicole Andrade have known each other since kindergarten, having attended Sacred Heart Parish School together before going to San Benito. When it comes to friendships, it’s hard to break up this trio, as they group text each other.
“We’re best friends, and that is one of the reasons why we play so well together on the court,” Sabbatini said.