Even though the San Benito High girls volleyball team didn’t have a Covid spring season, Mia Villegas—the lone returner from the last time the Haybalers had a season in 2019—said all was not lost.
From last winter and into the spring, the players met for conditioning, online workouts and pickup games—the latter on grass because they had no use of an indoor facility.
“Even though we didn’t end up playing an official game, it still felt like we were doing something productive,” the senior outside hitter said. “We were always doing something together, which was nice.”
Villegas entered this season full of hope and optimism, and nothing changed after the Balers participated in a jamboree on Aug. 21. They played against Alisal, Alvarez, Christopher and Salinas, who all compete with San Benito in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division.
“I really liked our positivity, how loud we were and how things came together,” she said. “The energy we showed, it was something I hadn’t seen much in practice. We worked on getting our rotations in order and it felt really good to be out there.”
Even though Villegas plays outside hitter, she takes more pride in her passing when she’s in the back row. Unlike a lot of outside hitters and middle blockers, Villegas stays in the game once she is rotated to the back row because of her solid passing skills.
“I’m most passionate about my passing and defense,” she said. “Serve-receive is my favorite thing to do, and I always feel comfortable when I’m in the back row. I’ve always had a strong love for being in the back row.”
That’s because when Villegas first started playing club volleyball in the seventh grade, she was a libero. That grew her love for passing, defense and trying to keep a ball from touching the floor. With a full three-sport high school season once again back on the calendar, Villegas is looking forward to playing basketball and track and field in the winter and spring, respectively.
Volleyball remains her favorite sport by virtue of her playing it the longest, but she finds tremendous satisfaction on the hardwood and track, too. Her two older sisters, Marisa and Maya, graduated from San Benito and served as role models.
Even though Marisa is pursuing a Master’s degree at Cal State San Marcos and Maya is a sophomore at Cal Poly, Mia texts her sisters almost daily to keep connected.
“I like to check in with what they’re doing,” she said. “Both of my sisters were an encouragement for me to do sports and be well rounded by doing well in school, and I really look up to them.”
Villegas also has a guiding hand in her mom, Marlene, who is a longtime assistant coach on the girls volleyball team.
“I love it that she’s a coach because she’s always been my biggest supporter through every one of my sports,” Mia said. “It’s even better to see her on the sidelines and get feedback from her as well.”
Emily Burley, who is in her fifth season as the San Benito coach, said the team is in a unique situation.
“This is the fewest number of returning players we’ve had, but the highest number of girls try out for the team,” she said. “It’s anybody’s game and it’s up to who decides they want to be a factor (that will determine the lineup).”
One thing is for certain: Burley knows her lone returner, Villegas, will play a key role in every phase of the game.
“Mia will be a big factor this season for sure,” Burley said.
Sports Editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]