Before the season started, San Benito High girls volleyball coach Emily Burley didn’t know how the year would unfold. After all, the Haybalers didn’t have a Covid spring season and as such only had one returning player in Mia Villegas.
Turns out, all is still well. Despite a straight-sets loss to Salinas High on Sept. 23, San Benito completed the first third of round-robin league play with a 4-1 mark, highlighted by a five-set win over Carmel and a four-set win over Alisal. The Balers are in the midst of putting together another strong season, which the program has consistently done for decades.
“So far things have been going really well,” Burley said. “What I really like about this team is I can just move people around and have girls play multiple positions to help the team because a lot of them are versatile and have great attitudes.”
Villegas is the perfect example as she was projected to be an outside hitter but recently has spent more time at libero.
“Mia has been fantastic,” Burley said. “She’s super good on the outside, but we’ve been loving her at libero lately because of her great serve-receive. If you watch her body, it looks the same way every time she contacts the ball, which is really hard to do.”
Burley has been excited about the play of sisters Audrey and Emily Blaettler, especially when they’re in the front row together. In a four-set win over Alisal on Sept. 21, the Blaettlers unleashed a wave of kills and blocks to help spark the Balers to victory.
Audrey plays the right side, outside hitter and has been blocking well, while Emily has been a strong defensive presence at middle blocker. Shae Valenzuela has played the right side, middle and now the outside and has excelled at all three positions.
“She’s not afraid to swing all the time and has been doing a great job on defense in the back row and getting us a swing from there as well,” Burley said.
Bethany Mondala has been the surprise addition since she transferred in from Independence High-San Jose. Mondala usually plays outside hitter, but Burley asked her to play setter because of her skills.
“She has really nice hands and has been great and is super athletic,” Burley said. “She’s picked up the setter position and it’s hard to do because the setter is like your quarterback. It’s really cool she’s here because you never expect to get a really good transfer and when it happens, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is awesome.’”
Audrey Blaettler, Valenzuela, Caitlin Miller and Emery Pura have paced the Balers’ attack and any one of them can go off and score a flurry of points.
“Those four play the outside and right side, where most of our sets go,” Burley said.
Villegas and Paulina Garcia have played stellar defense and are the team’s dig leaders.
“I can put Paulina in for whoever is struggling in the back row and she steps right in and is able to get it done,” Burley said.
For the first time in recent memory, each of the six teams in the Gabilan Division will play each other three times, a byproduct of having fewer squads in the Pacific Coast League’s A division this season. Burley said she looks forward to playing Salinas two more times after the team’s 25-14, 25-12, 25-14 blowout loss.
“It was not definitive of who we are as a team and if we show up like we have before, we’ll give them a run for their money,” Burley said. “They’re super good but we can be good, too.”