Balers flying high on the court

Saul Martinez and Brennan Ventura have been key for the Balers this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

After going through the first half of the league season undefeated, the San Benito High boys volleyball team put itself in prime position to win an outright Monterey Bay League Pacific Division championship. That path got a little tougher after the Haybalers suffered their first loss in division play to Monte Vista Christian last Thursday.

Despite the four-game loss, San Benito still likes it chances of winning the title. It won’t be easy, of course, and the Balers know they’ll have to dig deep and stay mentally tough to accomplish their goal. Junior setter Brennan Ventura and senior outside hitter/opposite Saul Martinez are two of the half-dozen players who have made a big impact this season. Both were key in the Balers’ thrilling five-set victory over Seaside on April 10.

Martinez had a team-high 11 kills, while Ventura finished with 22 assists, 18 service points and three service aces, all of which came at the beginning of the critical second set when the Balers were coming off an uninspired first game. Ventura won eight straight points on his serve as San Benito cruised to an easy Game 2 win.

The Balers trailed 9-6 in Game 5 before going on a match-closing 9-3 run to seal the outcome. It was a crucial victory considering Seaside also came into the match undefeated in division action.

“To come back and win was just amazing,” Ventura said. “We were so excited to sweep the first half of the league season.”

Ventura utilizes a jump, float serve to keep opposing teams off balance. Ventura’s serve has plenty of movement and drop to it, making for an effective offensive weapon. Ventura noted it takes a team effort to have a solid service attack.

“The coaches tell us where to serve, and from playing the game you kind of know where the weaker passers are,” he said. “I try to serve a ball that has a lot of momentum and can drop really fast.”

Ventura has become a more reliable setter, hitter and blocker this season as well, a byproduct of a productive club season with Central Coast Athletics out of Monterey.

“My setting is more consistent, and I’m able to play my position a lot better,” he said. “My blocking has greatly improved; last year I only had one block and this year I’m in the top three on the team in blocks.”

The 6-foot, 130-pound Ventura has made tremendous progress considering he only started playing volleyball in his freshman year. Ventura’s older brother, Gabe, a former Balers’ standout, has proved instrumental in Brennan’s development. The 5-10, 140-pound Martinez has also made steady improvement in his game since he started playing seven years ago.

This season has been one of Martinez’s most enjoyable of his career, as he is playing a new position. Martinez played setter the last three years, but at the end of last season he talked with coach David Ventura about making a position change. Although the switch has been a big adjustment—Martinez plays setter/libero for his club, Main Beach Volleyball out of Santa Cruz—it’s turned out to be great for him and the team.

“It’s always fun when you get to hit,” he said. “This was a first for me because the opposite literally does the opposite of what the setter does. The biggest adjustment is getting positioned properly on the court.”

David Ventura, who credited the coaching staff of Adrian Masoni, Gabe Ventura and Jesse Esqueda as being instrumental in the team’s development and success, said when Martinez and Brennan Ventura are in rhythm, the team usually is, too.

“Chris and Saul are our two best passers,” David Ventura said. “When we have a three-pass, we’re almost unstoppable—it is rare we don’t get point. Brennan can dump pretty consistently, which gives us an extra offensive piece in the front row.”

In addition to being solid volleyball players, Martinez and Ventura have excelled in the classroom as well. Ventura has a GPA hovering above 4.1—this coming off a sophomore year in which his GPA was 4.3. Martinez, who had a “perfect” GPA of 5.0 in the 2016-2017 school year, is currently ranked sixth in the class of 2018 with a 4.4 GPA, and he’s taking five Advanced Placement classes. Martinez has been accepted to Cal Berkeley, which has the toughest admission standards out of all the UCs .

It’s apparent that on and off the court, Martinez and Ventura shine bright.

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