Hollister High's Daniela Orsetti attempts to block a shot against host Soquel High during the teams' non-league volleyball match on Aug. 30. (Raul Ebio - The Pajaronian)

Senior leadership, younger contributors and a hardened-by-steel early-season schedule are the tickets to success for the Hollister High girls’ volleyball team. 

At least that’s the plan for head coach Lisa Becerra.  

After last week’s losses to a trio of powerhouses in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League, the Haybalers dropped to a 3-6 overall record. But that mark is unindicative of their strength and season prospects. 

Becerra intentionally schedules powerful opponents early to test the team and strengthen them for the upcoming league season.

“I wanted to schedule these Santa Cruz teams because they’re strong teams,” Becerra said. “They’re smart and they have great ball control. We came in (Wednesday at Soquel) wanting to compete but it’s also an opportunity to learn.”
And those are not just any Santa Cruz County teams.

Santa Cruz, Soquel and Harbor high schools were the top three in the SCCAL with a combined overall record of 79-29 in 2022. 

The Cardinals and Pirates both reached Central Coast Section championship games, and all three qualified for CIF NorCal playoffs.

Hollister’s losses last week were competitive and the Haybalers impressed Becerra with their feistiness and improvement.

“We did some good things,” said Becerra, after their match against Soquel. “Our offense was improved from the Santa Cruz game. We need to work on our out-of-system play and defense.”

Soquel features UCLA Beach commit Jessie Dueck—a member of USA Volleyball’s National Team Development Program since 2018 and winner of a Junior Volleyball Association’s Best in Beach Award last season. Senior setter Kayla Rhee-Pizano set the Knights to a Central Coast Section Division IV title as a sophomore in 2021.

Yet, Hollister hung in for most of the match. 

The first set was just 18-16 before Soquel pulled away, the second was 18-17 and the third was 23-20 late. The Knights had just a bit more firepower when they stayed in system en route to victory Aug. 30.

Hollister senior setter Bailey Cotter was dishing to a variety of hitters and middle Jada Dickens led the kill parade with nine, as quick sets to the middle were effective. 

The Haybalers fell to Harbor in four sets Sept. 1 but they were fierce in a 25-15 win in the second set. Experience from matches like that will come in handy later in the year.

“We hung in there because we have grittiness,” Becerra said. 

In 2022, the Haybalers finished with a 13-17 overall record and placed fourth in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division with a 6-6 mark. This season they are eager to challenge for the upper rungs this fall.

“We were around the middle last year,” Becerra said. “We have our sights set on being competitive with Salinas and Carmel…We want to give them all a hard time.”

Team captains Cotter and Dickens will have some extra offense on the outside by Annie Fleming, while the defense is keyed by libero and fellow team captain Maya Rosette. 

Additional contributors include Daniela Orsetti, Reilly Haertel, Madelyn Davis, Leah Brown, Carlie Rowen and team captain Abby Walter.

“We want to be a competitive program,” Cotter said. “We are a hardworking group as a team.”

Hollister finished behind league champion Salinas, which finished with a 26-9 overall record and swept league play with a 12-0 record in the Gabilan Division—the top tier of the four divisions within the PCAL. 

Salinas was also a CCS Open Division quarterfinalist and qualified for the CIF NorCal Division I playoffs, losing in the second round to CIF State Division I champion Branson High.

Hollister was swept by Salinas in both of the teams’ league contests last year. Yet, the Haybalers were competitive in the return match at home, falling to the Cowboys in three sets (25-18, 25-18, 25-22).

Next in the PCAL Gabilan Division standings came Carmel and Notre Dame of Salinas in second and third, respectively.

The Haybalers showed late-year improvement against Carmel, as the second of two losses came in four sets. Many of those Hollister players return this season and they feel they are trending upward.

“We have some strong senior leadership, in Maya, Jada, Bailey, Leah, Abby and Annie,” Becerra said. “They have developed a strong culture. We’re still a young team. We have some veteran players but half the team is freshmen and sophomores.”

PCAL Gabilan Division play begins against Santa Catalina on Sep. 6. In the first round of the double round-robin, Salinas will host Hollister on Sep. 20 and Carmel will put out the welcome mat on Sep. 26. 

Over the last three weeks of October, the second turn of the round-robin will bring Salinas, Carmel and Pacific Grove to Hollister in successive weeks.  

Will the August and early September matches lead to late-season success? Cotter said the learning experience is exactly what preseason is about.

“This year, the team is different,” Dickens said. “We have a really strong culture. I can see a positive future for this program. We have a lot of young girls. We have the potential to be really good.”

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