Baler girls volleyball hitting peak form

Liz Fleming and Marisa Greig combine for a block in a win over Christopher on Sept. 14.

Down 20-14 in Game 3, the San Benito High girls volleyball team showed why it is the two-time defending Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division champions. The Haybalers were playing a talented—albeit a young and relatively inexperienced—Christopher High squad in Gilroy.

And the Balers’ experience showed, as they went on a commanding 11-3 run to clinch a match that was played on Sept. 14. Game scores were 25-14, 25-21, 25-23.

“I liked what I saw in how they reacted when things were not going their way (in Game 3),” Balers coach Emily Tonascia said. “We faltered a little bit after a strong start, but we came back strong.”

Elizabeth Fleming said she and her teammates were plenty motivated to get the match done in three games. After all, they had school the next day, and they didn’t want to spend any more time on the court than what was necessary.

“We all picked it up there at the end and got the job done,” said Fleming, who had an instrumental role in the victory, tallying four of her nine kills in the decisive third game.

Two days after defeating Christopher, San Benito went a perfect 6-0 in winning the Harbor Tournament. The Balers defeated Vintage of Napa, Vista del Lagos, Carmel, Salinas, West of Tracy and Granite Bay. Outside hitter Lauren Sabbatini was the tournament Most Valuable Player, while Kieley Hoskins and Nicole Andrade were named to the All-Tournament team.

The Balers have won nine consecutive matches after going 2-3 in the Menlo Tournament on Sept. 9. If they end up winning a third straight league title, they’ll probably have plenty of more moments like they did in rallying to beat Christopher late in Game 3.

In that game, San Benito’s defense was struggling, as the Cougars started to find more spots for balls to drop for points. However, the Balers tightened up their defense when it counted the most—at the end. Suddenly, the balls that were dropping earlier in the game were getting dug up.

And that along with some timely tips from Fleming helped pave the way for a decisive game-ending run.

“Our defense started to struggle because Christopher started making some solid offensive plays and some really solid swings,” Tonascia said. “When that happens, what tends to happen on defense is you stop moving and start to stay in one spot. Or you’re still running when the ball is hit, and all of a sudden you’re in the wrong spot to make the play. But at the end, we did a good job of slowing down, taking a deep breath and making sure we were in the right spot on defense, which kind of dug us out of that hole.”

Sabbatini, one of the team’s outstanding four returning seniors along with Andrade, Hoskins and Annie Breger, finished with a team-high 12 kills. Breger had six kills and Marisa Greig had four kills. Eight different players recorded kills for the Balers, a testament to their variety of offensive options.

Sabbatini and Fleming proved to be the most potent attackers, as they combined for the team’s final four kills. Despite not playing any club volleyball in the off-season—Fleming also does swimming and basketball—the junior has made a dramatic improvement from a year ago.

“Liz did a great job tonight,” Tonascia said. “We’ve been talking a lot about our hitters making a lot of smart decisions, especially when we can’t just swing away. We couldn’t power through because Christopher had a really solid block up, and I told the girls to make the smart choice and put the ball where there’s not a digger. Liz started going to the tip and it worked.”

Fleming said it was the communication with Hoskins and Tonascia that helped her see the weak spots in the Christopher defense.

“They said to tip it because the defense was pushed back,” Fleming said.

Breger and Fleming led the way at the net, as they combined for eight blocks. Andrade had two service aces, and played solid defense once again.

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