Balers aim for Pacific Division title

Half of San Benito High's 12-player roster consists of three sets of brothers. Photo by Robert Eliason.

After an 0-12 league record last year prompted a demotion to the Monterey Bay League’s Pacific Division this season, the San Benito High boys volleyball team plans on earning a promotion back up to the upper Gabilan for the 2019 season. To guarantee that, the Haybalers must win this year’s Pacific Division championship.

They’re off to a great start, having won their first three league matches entering Tuesday’s match against Alvarez.

“As long as we continue doing what we’re doing, I see no reason why we can’t go back to the Gabilan,” Balers coach David Ventura said.

San Benito’s program is seemingly on the upswing, as its junior varsity squad is also flourishing. The varsity side features two sophomores and a freshman, signaling there is talent at each grade level. That means the team has an excellent chance of going on a sustained run of success. Key players include senior libero Chris Gonzalez, junior setter Brennan Ventura, senior opposite Saul Martinez, senior outside hitter Dominic Garcia, freshman outside hitter Alec Garcia, and middle blockers Eduardo Villanueva and Connor Champion.

Two reserves—Greg Gonzalez and Chad Champion—also play key roles. Martinez and Villanueva are two of the league leaders in hitting percentage, and Ventura has the ability to not only make great sets but block and play tough defense around the net whenever opponents are trying to do back passes.

The Balers have something really unique going on, as half of their 12-player roster are brothers. They include Chris and Greg Gonzalez, Alec and Dominic Garcia, and Connor and Chad Champion. Having three sets of siblings on the team makes for great competition, especially in practice.

“When the brothers are teamed up against each other in drills or scrimmages, it’s pretty fun to watch,” Villanueva said. “They go after it pretty hard, and they really want to win at whatever they’re doing.”

Villanueva, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior, has made dramatic improvement since taking up the sport during his junior year. That’s right—Villanueva is only in his second year of playing volleyball, but he’s learning fast.

“Eduardo made the biggest improvement out of anyone over last summer,” Ventura said. “His hitting has gotten pretty dominant. When we’re in rhythm and get the ball to our middles—and even more when we get it to Eduardo—it’s almost always a point. Our last tournament, his hitting percentage was .333, which is fantastic.”

It’s no coincidence Villanueva has become a force on the court. In between playing for the water polo team in the fall, Villanueva worked on his volleyball game in open gyms. Villanueva said the key to the team’s success has been its ability to shake off tough times with a stronger mental approach.

“We’re better at staying positive,” he said. “Last year it was hard to stay positive because we had so many losses. But we’ve learned from our mistakes and grown from them.”

Off the court, Villanueva has flourished as well. Villanueva carries a 4.1 GPA and earned an Eagle Scout award—the highest achievement or rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America. To earn the Eagle Scout honor, Villanueva completed a project in which he built an informational board for the local Elks Lodge.

Villanueva, who has been accepted to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, plans on majoring in biology and going to medical school to become a doctor. His dad has a doctorate degree and is a plant breeder, while Villanueva’s sister, Sophia, a sophomore at San Benito, actually was the driving force for Villanueva to start playing volleyball.

“I got interested in the sport after watching my sister play club (for Rush),” he said.

The Balers know they’ll need to clean up their play to win the Pacific Division title. In a thrilling five-set win over Gilroy on March 22, San Benito finished with 64 kills to go along with a whopping 74 errors.

“We had over 20 serving errors, let the ball hit the ground too much and made a lot of mistakes,” Ventura said. “But we persevered and won. If we can cut down on the errors, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”

The school has set up a pair of alumni games on April 6 at 6 p.m. for the women’s game and 7:30 p.m. for the men’s game. Participants have a donation of $20 to play, which includes a t-shirt. For spectators, the entrée fee is $5. All proceeds go to the boys and girls volleyball programs.. For more information, contact David Ventura at (408) 858-9635 or Emily Burley at (831) 245-0786.

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