The Hollister High boys volleyball team has plenty of momentum going for it this season.
The Haybalers were 8-3 overall and 3-0 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division following a three-game sweep of Pacific Collegiate on March 22. With libero/defensive specialist Nolan Foster, outside hitter Henry Schwarzwaelder and setter Carlos Garcia, Hollister has the foundational pieces for volleyball success.
“Our best defender, our best hitter, our best setter, those are the pieces you need,” said Adrian Masoni, a longtime Hollister assistant who took over head coaching duties starting this season. “We have a lot of talent, guys who have been playing club and exposed to a lot of good play out there. We obviously have a lot to work on still, but I think we’re right where we need to be.”
That’s because of players like Foster, whose impeccable passing and ability to dig up balls that would normally go down for points often forces opponents into errors because they have to attempt an extra couple of passes and swings.
Foster, a senior, plays his club ball for Bay to Bay, which is one of the premier travel teams in the Bay Area.
“Nolan is a coach’s dream to have on the court because of his experience,” Masoni said. “Every coach comes up to me after matches and says that guy is everywhere. I’ll say I know, it’s nothing I did. Nolan just has it in him, a nose for the ball and he truly doesn’t get enough praise for what he does on the court. He is just everywhere and will be in the top five in the CCS in digs by season’s end.”
As impactful as Foster is defensively, he’s equally potent at the service line. Foster ranks among the top two on the team in aces and points served, and when the Balers go on a big run, he’s usually serving them up.
“Nolan has a serve that is not only accurate, but moves a lot making it challenging for the passer to handle,” Masoni said. “He can put it anywhere on the court. He’s such a competitor and loves a challenge that he will look across the net at whoever the best passer is and take it upon himself to serve it to that guy. I’m looking at him as if to say, ‘You don’t serve it to that guy. He’s the best passer.’ And Nolan is saying, ‘I’m going to show you that I can get a point off the best passer.’ And who am I to argue? He’s a once in a decade type player.”
In Schwarzwaelder, Hollister has a rising star. The sophomore outside hitter delivers thunderous attacks and has racked up 20 kills in a match twice already this season. Schwarzwaelder was on the junior varsity team last year, and his ascent has been nothing short of meteoric.
“Henry picked up the game less than two years ago, but he is an awesome kid and really gifted player,” Masoni said. “Every week he adds a new weapon to his arsenal that just blows me away. Given the fact he’s just a sophomore, I’m just blown away at his development. Sometimes I think, ‘Gosh, this kid is only a sophomore?’ It’s unbelievable.’ He’s going to take the torch and be a leader of this team. I can just see it in the next few years.”
Schwarzwaelder plays all the way around, a testament to his adept passing ability. He’s one of three sophomore starters along with setter/right side Abraham Corona and outside hitter Diego Martinez-Ruiz, meaning the future looks particularly bright.
The Balers run a 6-2 offense and Garcia is the No. 1 setter and leads the team in assists. Like all effective setters, Garcia has a deft touch and leadership qualities.
“Carlos is a great kid, comes from a great family and is another kid I can always rely on to lead by example,” Masoni said. “He can always right the ship when we get into a little rut.”
The Balers have plenty of athleticism and height up front with middle blockers Rafi Allen and Michael Curto, who is a co-captain along with Foster.
“Rafi is one of those kids where if you can have 12 of them on your team, you’ll be in a very good place,” Masoni said. “I think he’s got a 4.5 GPA, he’s always positive and he works hard. He’s really shown a lot of skill at other positions as well besides middle. He’s one of the seniors we lean on for leadership and can take over a practice.
“And Michael is another guy who knows how to read the room. If the energy starts to go down, he knows how to bring it back up. If we’re not executing at practice or the energy is getting low, he’ll look at me and say, ‘Coach, we’re going to take a timeout.’ He brings them together, talks and gets them back on track. That type of leadership you can’t really measure but is invaluable.”
Masoni runs the local San Andreas club volleyball program, of which Schwarzwaelder competed for last fall. He’s one of several Balers who play for San Andreas, so it’s no coincidence that Hollister is having success. The best teams have local club organizations that act as feeder programs so by the time athletes get to high school, they already have the requisite skills and experience to make a difference.
Ideally, more boys will start playing at an earlier age, creating a pipeline of talent every year.