When Emily Tonascia played at San Benito High School, she was known for her enthusiasm and positivity. The former Haybalers’ standout looks to bring that same mojo as the new coach of the girls volleyball team. Tonascia takes over for Ruth Testman, who stepped down in April so she could pursue her Master’s degree.
“I think most things can be said in a positive way,” Tonascia said. “I like the girls to have fun and enjoy the game, because no one has to be out there. We’re about enjoying the game, but at the same time getting better and stronger and beating teams.”
Tonascia, a 2010 San Benito High graduate, went on to play at Gavilan College and Menlo College. A Hollister native, Tonascia’s previous coaching experience includes a one-year stint coaching the San Benito boys team in 2012 and three years of club coaching, mostly with Rush Volleyball Club out of Gilroy.
Tonascia actually got hired on first as a special education teacher at San Benito, not knowing initially the volleyball coach’s position was vacant.
“I actually found the teaching and coaching position at the same time, so it seemed meant to be,” she said. “It’s really exciting because in the summer I’ve gotten to learn about the girls and their past success. They’ve been super awesome, but we can’t live off of that success. It’s a new year, we’re starting from square one and teams will be coming after us.”
Indeed, the two-time defending Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division Champion Balers know it’ll require an intense focus and discipline to three-peat, but they’re up for the challenge. San Benito graduated standouts Marisa Villegas and Camille Finley, but they return a plethora of talent, including Lauren Sabbatini, Nicole Andrade, Annie Breger, Kieley Hoskins, Alyssa Ito, Madi Schneider, Emily Schneider and Elizabeth Fleming.
Tonascia tested the mettle and discipline of her players early on, as she held 6 a.m. summer practices—just like the football team.
“I thought for sure some of the girls would stop showing up,” Tonascia said. “We were doing a lot of conditioning and running—not super fun stuff. But we consistently had 40 to 50 girls everyday, which was kind of crazy and cool.”
Said Breger: “I was also pleasantly surprised that day in, day out, everyone showed up. It was really great; it shows the girls’ commitment to the sport and the program.”
Breger likes how Tonascia has focused on team-building activities while reinforcing the basic fundamentals of the game. The team had a cleanup day in which they picked up trash on San Benito St., and also met at Dunne Park for an outdoor event.
On the court, Tonascia has reinforced the fundamentals, which the best high school teams possess in abundance.
“It’s been back to the basics with drills that reinforce what has gotten us to this level,” Breger said. “Things like how to use your platform when passing, or remembering certain serving techniques. In the long run, it will make all of our skills better. … It’s nice to see the amount of team-building and unity that she’s building within the program.”
Breger said even though she wasn’t there for the trash cleanup day, having a non-related volleyball team activity helps the players bond perhaps in a way that not even a sports-related event could accomplish.
“It’s an opportunity to grow closer together,” she said. “I would rather spend time cleaning up garbage with the people I love rather than being in the best place in the world with people who genuinely don’t care about me. Doing things to help build off each other will help us in the long run.”
The incoming seniors are now on their third coach in four years, as Testman had coached the previous two years after succeeding Dean Askanas. However, Breger and her teammates are confident the squad will coalesce yet again to have another banner season. Breger said Tonascia brings something unique to the team, just like her predecessors did.
“As a player it’s awesome to see the different coaching styles and all the different methods they use,” Breger said. “Coach Tonascia’s style is really nice in that her whole philosophy is building an organization from all aspects. All of my experiences with the volleyball coaches here have been extremely different, but in really good ways.”
Tonascia was a standout middle blocker at San Benito High, and she feels one of her strengths is being able to relate to the players and know exactly what they’re going through.
“I think I can relate to the girls a lot,” she said. “I was in their exact shoes, and went above and beyond in terms of giving a great effort and focusing to be the best. We all started with the same roots here in Hollister, and I think that is something powerful because they can relate to that.”