Haybalers complete strong season

Francesca Giannotta will return next year for a strong San Benito team.

When it comes to on-court success, the San Benito High girls volleyball team is the gold standard in the Pacific Coast Athletic League. Even though the Haybalers finished second in the Gabilan Division this season—champion Salinas snapped the Balers’ three-year title reign—they comported themselves well, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.

San Benito lost in that round to Homestead in three games on Sept. 30. Game scores were 25-15, 27-25, 25-10. The Balers finished 21-12, including a 10-2 league record, with both of their defeats coming to Salinas. Balers coach Emily Burley was proud of the players for improving in different facets of the game.  

“It was a good season,” she said. “I saw a lot more heart from beginning to end and improvement. Our offense really improved, we worked on a lot of plays and our setters were flexible working with everyone to get us in rhythm.”

San Benito will graduate key players Elizabeth Fleming, Alyssa Ito, Elliana Gaitan, Carissa Garcia and Amanda Navarro. The five seniors all had solid seasons, and yet the Balers are one of those programs that thrive year after year despite losing a solid core group of players.

They do it with tremendous depth and talent. San Benito will return defensive specialist Francesca Giannotta, middle blocker Roxanne Black, outside hitter Nicole Miller, setters Jaya Waller and Maya Garcia and Kiana Heredia. Burley said Waller and Garcia did a nice job of taking control of the offense.

“With Jaya, she is athletic, has good hands and good court sense,” Burley said. “She’s getting better about being more vocal and telling the girls what she wants to run, which is a big and important role because you run the whole offense and tell everyone what they’re doing.”

San Benito’s shortcoming against Homestead was in serve-receive. Homestead had some potent servers, and they continually had the Balers on the defensive from the start of the point.

“They’re a good serving team and good offensive team, and when you’re not answering back very strongly, it constantly puts you on the defense and affects your defense,” Burley said. “Serve-receive has been an issue for us, and it’s the hardest part of the game from a mental standpoint.”

Block had a team-high nine kills and 3 ½ blocks; however, due to the team’s poor passing, it couldn’t get the ball to the 6-foot-1 junior more often. When Black did receive an offensive attack, she usually put the ball down for a point. Fleming, the team’s other middle blocker, had seven kills and 3 ½ blocks. Miller finished with eight kills.

Burley and Black said the highlight of the season was playing tough competition in the non-league portion of the team’s schedule.

“We went 0-4, but almost every match went four or five games,” Burley said. “And playing those teams really help us to focus on what we need to do to improve.”

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