Volleyball: Balers clinch 2nd straight MBL title

Elizabeth Fleming has developed into a strong player for the Balers.

On occasion, the San Benito High girls volleyball team will sit in coach Ruth Testman’s classroom on campus and study film of a particular opponent. A week ago, the Haybalers watched film of Monte Vista Christian, which dealt them their only Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division loss on Sept. 29.

Safe to say, San Benito is ready for the rematch with MVC, which takes place on Oct. 25. San Benito clinched at least a share of the league championship after a thrilling five-set win over Salinas Thursday. Now the Balers will get a chance for payback against the Mustangs, who rolled the Balers in three sets in the team’s first league meeting.

The loss provided a wake-up call for the reigning league champions.

“We had played and beat them in a tournament (earlier in the season), so when we came into that match, we might have underestimated them,” junior middle blocker Annie Breger said. “That loss gave us a good reminder that we can’t have that kind of mindset, and we can’t expect to win just by showing up.”

The Balers are 10-1 in league play, with MVC and Salinas tied for second with 8-2 marks. Against Salinas, Lauren Sabbatini had 24 kills and two service aces, Marisa Villegas had 15 kills, 30 digs and four aces, and Kieley Hoskins had 48 assists. In a three-game sweep of Notre Dame-Salinas on Oct. 13, San Benito used its tremendous balance to pull away for the victory.

Breger, Camille Finley, Villegas, Nicole Andrade, Elizabeth Fleming, Sabbatini, Hoskins and Emily Schneider all made plays when the team needed it, especially in Game 3. San Benito used Game 2 to spring board its way to an easy decision in the final game.

The Balers won Game 2, 31-29, overcoming three game points and displaying the resolve and resiliency that will be needed in the Central Coast Section playoffs. Testman was pleased with the team’s performance and energy level in Game 3.

“It’s all about momentum and who shows up that night,” she said. “Having that energy to start off Game 3—that’s something we need more of on a consistent level. I want to see Game 3 again. We need that all the time, and they know it.”

Breger said it’s no coincidence the team is at its best when it is communicating constantly and playing with a high level of energy.

“Our chemistry is getting better, and a lot of that has to do with energy,” she said. “We need to keep on pumping each other up to better ourselves and push ourselves to our greatest potential.”

In the middle of Game 2, Breger was alone on the left side, as the Notre Dame front row shaded their block to the middle. Breger immediately saw this and yelled to Hoskins to set her the ball. Hoskins promptly delivered a quick set to Breger, who was already at the apex of her jump to hit the ball before any of the Notre Dame blockers had left their feet.

San Benito plans on displaying that type of chemistry going forward, especially in the playoffs. Although the Balers don’t have that one dominant, bona-fide Division I player, they have several athletes who are plenty talented and play well together. Ever since they lost to Menlo-Atherton last year in the CCS Division I playoff semifinals, the Balers have focused on getting back to the postseason and advancing another step.

As they enter the stretch run, the players are confident that will come to fruition—but only if they play with the desperation and tenacity of a team that is willing to fight for every single point.

In the end, it all comes back to energy.

“When we were going over film, a lot of us were saying it looked like we were struggling on defense,” Breger said. “That has to do with energy, and that is what we’re focusing on. Energy is what separates a good team from a great team.”

And the Balers want to become the latter. One thing is for certain: Their offense is getting more dynamic, as they used Villegas to attack the middle on a couple of occasions against Notre Dame.

By attacking the opposing team’s setter, San Benito forces the opposition to play a guessing game in terms of setting up a block. Hoskins can go to the outside or the middle, making the team’s offensive attack diversified and that much tougher to stop.

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