Brennan Ventura and Chad Champion first started playing basketball together before making the transition to another sport on the hardwood—volleyball. Now in the twilight of their high school careers, the San Benito High seniors are cherishing every moment they have left playing for the Haybalers.
“The highlight of my season is getting closer with all of my teammates and having a fun time, win or lose,” said Champion, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound outside hitter. “Some of my favorite sports memories have come in the last two years playing on the volleyball team.”
Ventura, the son of Balers coach David Ventura, has been a solid setter for the last couple of years. Brennan counts the team’s four-set win over Monterey on April 3 as the best performance of the season, in part to San Benito having to overcome the loss of Champion late in the match to come out on top.
“The way we played all around was amazing,” he said. “The team camaraderie was good, we didn’t put our heads down and we fought to the very last point. Even when Chad got hurt in the last set, we had to put another player in and we still finished the set strong and played amazing.”
In addition to Champion and Ventura, David Ventura said players like Dylan Perry, Jakob Young, Cyrus Turner and Miguel Siniguian have also made an impact. Young, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker, is in his first season with the program and a pretty raw talent. However, David Ventura said Young has improved over the course of the season and has contributed in a variety of ways.
Perry has also been a difference-maker as a middle blocker for the second straight year, whether it’s on the attack or defensively with blocks and getting his hands on balls at the opponent’s point of attack. Siniguian is a junior utility who possesses tremendous ability.
“He can play the outside, has amazing hops and looks like he’s floating in the air sometimes,” David Ventura said. “He’s one of the shortest guys on the team, but he can jump higher than anybody.”
Turner, a junior libero, has elevated his game and become a sparkplug for the team. Turner leads vocally and makes solid passes and digs up balls that keep points alive. Even though the Balers are not having the season they anticipated—they entered the week at 2-4 in Gabilan Division action—they’re hoping to close out the season strong. Champion and Ventura have developed a chemistry on the court that results in strong communication and play.
“I always have someone to set it to because I know Chad is a reliable hitter in the front or back row,” Brennan Ventura said. “So there will be certain times I might not make the best play, but Chad will be there to bail me out or the team out because he can keep the point alive. We have a rhythm down and we know what the other is going to do most of the time.”
Champion has had a more productive season in 2019 compared to last year, due in part to having another year of experience under his belt. Once he sees the ball set his way, Champion looks at the defense and starts analyzing how to hit and where to go with the ball.
“Once I see the ball come my way, I start my approach and look to see who they have blocking and where the back row is covering,” he said. “If there is a big block, I’ll try to hit away from it or try to hit it off the side of their hands. Last year I wasn’t really a hitter because I wasn’t that good. I’ve gotten my timing down and improved on my jumps and swings. I also understand the game more and can jump higher.”
The setter is often referred to as the quarterback for a volleyball team, and Ventura has filled that role nicely. Once he receives a pass, Ventura starts the process of which play he should make next.
“It really depends on who has the hot hand,” Ventura said. “It’s also important to know who is the big blocker on the other side, so if the big blocker is with the outside hitter, than I usually try to set the opposite or middle. If their middle is weak, I try to capitalize on that for as many points as possible.”
Ventura didn’t start playing volleyball until the eighth grade, and even then he didn’t have a defined position. However, after his older brother, Gabe, watched him play, Brennan took to the setter position because his brother noticed he had good hands, or the ability to feather a volleyball to where it needs to be in a variety of ways.