Over the years, only a handful of student-athletes from the San Benito High girls volleyball team have been good enough to go straight from high school to a Division I program.
Lauren Sabbatini, a 2018 graduate, is one of them. A redshirt junior at Fresno State University, the 5-foot-9 defensive specialist has adjusted nicely to living in the Central Valley and her role on the Bulldogs women’s volleyball team. Having played outside hitter all her life, Sabbatini has made the transition to playing exclusively in the back row and done well.
“Honestly, I love being on the outside and hitting in the front row, but now I really enjoy passing and digging a lot of balls in the back row,” she said. “I feel like I have a real high volleyball IQ so I think playing in the back row came pretty natural to me. But it’s been more of a mental challenge than a physical one.”
Fresno State recently completed its 2021 season at 12-14 overall and 8-10 in the Mountain West Conference. Sabbatini played some outside hitter in her freshman season before starting the transition to the back row during the spring Covid season. This season, Sabbatini has played exclusively in the back row, mostly the right back and left back positions along with some libero.
“The Covid year was really the transition where I started playing more back row,” Sabbatini said. “I think one day in practice they noticed the middle back defense was really clicking with me and they soon realized I was one of the better back row defenders. They trusted me that I could dig a lot of balls.”
Sabbatini only had one reception error out of 44 total attempts for a .977 receive percentage this season, the best mark on the team among players with at least 40 attempts. Entering her college career, Sabbatini knew the plan was for her to eventually transition to the back row. She’s proven to be a solid all-around Division I volleyball player.
“Our coaches are really big on everyone as a volleyball player and are not set in certain positions,” she said.
Sabbatini said two moments stick out from her career so far. The first was a five-set win over Air Force in the Covid spring season. Fresno State won the fifth set, 24-22, an incredible back and forth affair that represented one of the longest fifth sets in the NCAA that season.
Another highlight came this fall season when Sabbatini was having a conversation with coach Jonathan Winder during a match, making a case to Winder to keep her in the game to serve. He did and Sabbatini produced a service ace, and all of that was captured on video and posted on Twitter.
Sabbatini redshirted her first year and played outside hitter in 2019, recording career bests of 13 kills against Nevada-Reno, 38 attacks vs. UNLV and hitting .400 vs. Utah State. Although things haven’t always been smooth, Sabbatini has adjusted nicely to college. She arrived on campus in June 2018, eager to start the next chapter in her life.
“I was really excited to leave Hollister and when I got to Fresno, it really felt like home,” she said. “I felt like those first couple of months I was so happy to live on my own, figure out my own life and how to live without my parents and siblings.”
But don’t get Sabbatini wrong: now that she’s older, she tends to miss seeing her family more often.
“I definitely miss home a lot more now,” she said. “I always want to go home and see my sister and parents and hang out with them.”
Sabbatni has one more year of competitive volleyball left and after graduating in May 2022 plans on going to nursing school to eventually pursue a career in the healthcare industry.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.