Volleyball: Balers seek CCS title

Balers senior Marisa Villegas hits through the MVC block in Tuesday's victory.

When it comes to winning championships, no one likes to share them. That was the attitude San Benito High had entering Tuesday’s home match against Monte Vista Christian. Five days earlier, the Haybalers had clinched at least a share of its second straight Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division title.

But a loss Tuesday would mean three teams—San Benito, MVC and Salinas—would all end up with identical 10-2 league records. If that wasn’t motivation enough, MVC dealt the Balers their only league loss on Sept. 29, a 3-0 sweep. Safe to say, San Benito had plenty of reasons to be motivated to beat the Mustangs.

And that’s exactly what the Balers did, rolling to a convincing victory, 25-16, 25-21, 20-25, 25-17, to clinch a second consecutive outright league championship.

“We really wanted to get revenge on them pretty much,” said Camille Finley, who is one of two seniors on the team along with Marisa Villegas. “We wanted league all by ourselves, and we didn’t want to share it. So we just left everything out there today. It was awesome how we played.”

Indeed, San Benito (31-5 overall, 11-1 league) had only one long lapse in the match, in the middle of Game 3. But after dropping the set 25-20, the Balers started fast in Game 4 and never trailed to win going away. It was Senior Night, and how appropriate that the Balers’ two seniors—Finley and Villegas—had superb performances.

Finely finished with six blocks and four service aces, and Villegas had 15 kills. Early in Game 4, Finley had a long conversation with coach Ruth Testman, with the two standing side by side on the endline as play went on. From that vantage point, Testman pointed out the nuance of the block: where to position the body, reading the offensive player’s attack and timing the block with precision.

When Finley was inserted back into the rotation, the 5-foot-11 middle blocker immediately stuffed two MVC attacks. Fellow middle blocker Annie Breger made her presence felt with five blocks, and outside hitter Lauren Sabbatini delivered 11 kills, many of them that were simply indefensible.

Elizabeth Fleming continued her steady progression as a potent hitter and defensive presence, and Kieley Hoskins (four aces) had another standout performance at setter. San Benito fell one game short of making last year’s CCS playoff finals, which would’ve earned it an automatic berth into the CIF NorCal playoffs.

The Balers have had that goal in mind since they saw their 2015 season end to Menlo-Atherton in the section playoff semifinals.

“We’re excited for the playoffs to start,” Finley said. “We just have to work as hard as we’ve been doing all season. Hopefully, we can make it to the CCS championship and NorCals this time.”

Finley and Villegas have been friends since the third grade, when they met each other at Southside School. It’s been a long journey, one they and the rest of the team hope culminates in a trip to the CCS playoff title match.

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