A slice of the San Benito High football team has permeated the boys volleyball squad, and coach David Ventura couldn’t be more pleased.
In newcomers Tyler Pacheco, Abraham Solorio and Michael Curto along with football/volleyball veterans Derek Sandoval, Jose Ceballos and Victor Villafuerte, San Benito has six players off the football team who are thriving on the hardwood. The Haybalers hope a five-set loss to Christopher High on April 5 will serve as a springboard for the rest of the season.
The powerful Cougars—who won 25-16, 25-18, 23-25, 20-25, 15-12—feature two Division I commits and had been crushing Gabilan Division opponents until the Balers became the first team in league this season to push them to a decisive fifth set.
“(Christopher) is the best of the best in our league, and the fact we battled them to five when no one has done that so far leaves me very, very pleased,” Ventura said. “We’re playing really well against the bigger teams; it’s the lesser teams we’ve got to raise up ourselves to and I think we can play like this all the time going forward.”
The loss dropped the Balers to 3-4 in league play, though two of the losses came to Christopher. Ventura said if San Benito can bring the same level of play and intensity to all of its matches, he’s confident the team can win the majority of its matches into the league playoffs.
Sandoval is a three-year starter and as the setter plays the most vital role in facilitating the attack. He distributed the ball with precision against CHS, setting up Curto in the middle and Pacheco and Villafuerte on the outside as the trio combined for over 20 kills.
Both Pacheco and Villafuerte are explosive and can terminate the ball effectively, and Curto gets the job done with a little more finesse and catching the opponent’s block out of sync. Curto played left tackle during football season, meaning he protected Pacheco’s blind side.
“Curto doesn’t look like the typical volleyball player because usually they’re tall and skinny, but then you’ve got this 250-pound guy out here which is awesome,” Pacheco said. “We go to tournaments and all these guys are like, ‘What are you doing out here?’”
Villafuerte had a huge performance in the CHS match, routinely terminating the ball at critical moments especially when San Benito won Games 3 and 4 after falling behind two games to none. Solorio had most of his half-dozen kills from the left side, filling in nicely for senior outside hitter Joe Fata, who tore his meniscus the week of March 28.
“It’s been tough adjusting without Joe because he’s a real positive guy and team leader, but tonight showed what we can do,” Pacheco said.
Carlos Garcia led the team with four service aces, libero Nolan Foster passed well and came up with some terrific digs, and Israel Sepulveda had a couple of kills and blocks, including one on Ryan DuRoss, a Stanford-signee. Pacheco was potent offensively, time and again terminating the ball with authority. He also passed well and has made rapid improvement in a short amount of time.
Outside of a brief stint playing co-ed volleyball in the eighth grade, Pacheco had no prior volleyball experience entering the season. After Pacheco told Fata, Sandoval, Villafuerte and Ceballos that he wasn’t going to play baseball this season, his friends told him to come out for the volleyball team.
“Tyler Pacheco, that was a big acquisition for us this year, needless to say,” Ventura said. “He did one practice and said, ‘I’m here to stay.’”
In addition to being able to play volleyball, Ventura said the half-dozen football players bring plenty of intangibles to the team.
“They add that intensity and killer attitude,” he said. “We had a couple of them last year and you could see they put a little spark in us. And it’s the same thing this year.”
Ventura and the players expect to bring their performance from the last three sets of the CHS game for the rest of the season, which would result in a winning league record.
“We’re starting to move in the right direction, which is all I can ask for,” Ventura said.
Pacheco feels like a 5-year-old again learning a new sport and improving daily. As much as he loves playing his main sports of football and basketball, Pacheco and his teammates probably never had as much fun or were as animated as they were in their loss to CHS. Players were doing backflips after Game 4 and leaping chest bumps even after the Cougars clinched the match.
“Usually you’re right that I wouldn’t want teammates to be doing chest bumps after a loss, but this was different because a lot of guys were pumped because we played our best game of the season,” Pacheco said. “We really came together as a team and I think this shows our potential. I’m glad the guys were pumped because I was pumped and excited and a game like this shows what we can do.”
Because Pacheco has played basketball and football for most of his athletic career, playing volleyball has given him a fresh perspective on sports and what drew him to athletics initially.
“It’s just having a lot of fun with my boys and being able to learn something new every single day about the game,” he said. “That’s why it’s been so much fun learning a whole new sport which I haven’t done since I was a little kid. Basketball and football, I feel like there is a lot of pressure to be that guy and leader which I don’t mind. But going out on the volleyball court, there are guys with more experience and I kind of sit back and listen to those guys and we’re all having a lot of fun.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org