Balers setter Derek Sandoval pumped out double-digit assists in the team's three-game sweep of Christopher on May 20. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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The Christopher and San Benito boys volleyball teams split two matches this season, with the Cougars winning the first time in three games and the Haybalers returning the favor by the exact score in their latest contest on May 20. Game scores were 25-17, 25-12, 25-15. 

Both teams have made the Pacific Coast League playoffs, with No. 4 seed San Benito playing No. 5 Monterey tonight and No. 2 Christopher taking on No. 3 Palma on Wednesday. If San Benito wins, it plays top seed Carmel on Wednesday, with the winner of that game taking on the winner of the Christopher-Palma match for the league playoff championship on Friday. 

Carmel went 5-0, Christopher and San Benito finished 4-3, Palma went 4-4 and Monterey finished 0-7. Despite the uneven records, a coin flip/blind draw determined the seed orders for Christopher, San Benito and Palma for the 2-4 positions. The Balers feel they’re peaking at the perfect time. 

Their potent outside hitters, Alec Garcia and J.P. Alcala Frutos, had their way against Christopher, recording 12 kills apiece with a robust hitting percentage. Time and again the two went up for an attack and hit the ball straight down as the Cougars provided little resistance. Christopher was without the services of perhaps the best player in the Pacific Coast League in Ryan Duross, who was traveling to Las Vegas to play in a club tournament. 

High school teams have had to adjust all season long as the club season—which normally goes in the fall—is being played in the spring since it was shut down during the heart of the pandemic. 

“Our biggest problem is getting consistency with our players and having everybody on the court at the same time,” Balers coach David Ventura said. “Otherwise, the guys are playing well.”

San Benito took advantage of the absence of Duross but also seemed to play with more vigor. 

“I think the difference this time was we brought more energy than we did last time, and it totally made a difference on the court,” Garcia said. “Playing with more energy brought up our confidence.”

Christopher has done well despite being down to seven players, by far the smallest roster in coach Kevin Bruce’s tenure. Without Duross, who averages eight to nine kills per game and provides a strong blocking presence, the Cougars couldn’t stay with San Benito. 

“I would hope we could take a couple of sets—maybe even steal a game—but I was proud of our players’ effort,” Bruce said. “You just saw the inexperience, youth and our lack of height at times. Without Ryan, it’s really hard to make up for the extra kills he gives us.”

Bruce noted the performances of setter Zach Zollinger and middle blocker Jacob Atteberry, who led the team with eight kills. 

“Jacob has been stepping up and playing better each game,” Bruce said. “And Zach is really working hard on his serves and is leading us in both service points and aces.”

The team’s numbers are down because four to five players are competing for the basketball team, Bruce said. Normally, basketball is played in the winter but this year is running concurrently with boys volleyball and a dozen other sports in the modified sports season. 

“We still get to play volleyball, and we’re really happy about that,” Bruce said. 

Like CHS, the Balers were missing a starter—setter Nolan Foster—who was also in Las Vegas for a club tournament. But Derek Sandoval and Carlos Garcia were up to the task, with Sandoval utilizing some precise quick sets that led to several San Benito points. In addition to Alcala Frutos and Garcia, the Balers received five kills from Kieran De La Pena and two solo blocks from Victor VillaFuete. 

“We’ve come a long way,” Ventura said. “All three of our losses came when we didn’t have two of our starters.”

Despite all the tribulations of a Covid year, the Balers have a 15-man roster, one of the largest in the league. They’ll get another shot at Carmel, which went 5-0 and beat San Benito in four games on May 14. 

“Except for the first game, we battled them in every game all the way to the end,” Ventura said. “We played really well against them.”

A day after sweeping CHS, San Benito did the same to Monterey as Garcia had 12 kills and Alcala Frutos had nine.

The San Benito boys volleyball team was all smiles against CHS. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
J.P. Alcala Frutos recorded 12 kills in a win over CHS. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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