Balers look to regain winning edge

Chris Gonzalez is one of the top returners for the Balers.

San Benito High boys volleyball coach Dave Ventura knows the program should be competing for Monterey Bay League championships. Four years removed from a second-place league finish, the team’s struggles since then have coincided with a lack of coaching stability.

Three coaches in the last three years doesn’t exactly equate to a winning formula. That’s why when Ventura got hired in the off-season, he told athletic director Tod Thatcher he was committed to coaching the team for at least three years. That’s great news for a program that won more league games in 2012 (15) than in the past three years combined (12).

“We needed to bring some stability to this program,” said Ventura, who has helped out the team either as an assistant coach or volunteer assistant for the last couple of years. “I’ll be here for three years at a minimum, maybe longer. I’m committed to turning this thing around and getting it back to where it was.”

Ventura knows successful coaches surround themselves with excellent assistant coaches. To that end, Ventura said he’s surrounded himself with a couple of top-flight assistants, including former Balers standout Adrian Masoni. The other assistant coaches include Jesse Esqueda and one of Ventura’s sons, Gabe, who is the junior varsity coach.

“My absolute first priority was to bring on a very strong staff,” Ventura said.

Although the Balers might not end up on the winning end of every match, Ventura expects his players to never lose in the effort department.

“Teams will have to work to beat us,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re respectable this year.”

Saul Martinez, a junior setter, has the best overall skill set on the team. One of the most experienced players on the team, Martinez can play multiple positions. Martinez never leaves the court, playing every rotation.

“He’s our best setter, probably our best hitter and our first or second best passer along with (libero) Chris Gonzalez,” Ventura said.

Gonzalez, a returning junior starter who possesses tremendous reflexes in digging up balls, had an outstanding sophomore season. Ventura hopes many of the inexperienced players on the roster turn out like Gonzalez in terms of knowing the game and what to do in certain situations.

“Chris is always where he needs to be on the court,” Ventura said. “Quickness is the key to his success.”

The team has decent offensive firepower in junior outside hitter Dominic Garcia and senior outside hitter Candy Hernandez. Both players are capable of producing points, along with junior middle blockers Connor Champion and Eduardo Villanueva, who is in his first year of volleyball after competing on the swimming team last year.

Defensive specialist Anthony Roman, outside hitter Daniel Grajeda and sophomore setter Brennan Ventura are also expected to make an impact. Even though the Balers are relatively inexperienced compared to the top teams in the MBL, Ventura is confident his players will improve as the season goes along.

“What we’re pushing for this year is raising what I consider their volleyball IQs,” he said. “And they’ll gain that with more practice and game experience. We’re emphasizing for the boys to be the smartest kids on the court. And the other thing we’re pressing on is ball control, because we don’t have any height.”

As a result, Ventura knows his team must overcome their height disadvantage by being superior in the other phases of the game: serve-receive, passing, serving and court coverage. In addition, the Bales’ cohesiveness will go a long way in determining how their season unfolds.

“We’ll be more of a defensive oriented team this year,” Ventura said. “If we can be in the right place at the right time, we’ll be fine. We’ve got to communicate on the court at all times, and play together.”

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