If there was one moment that synopsized what the San Benito High girls volleyball team was about this season, it came in the third to last point of its Central Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinal match against Los Altos High on Nov. 2.
Down two games to none and trailing 24-23 in Game 3, the Haybalers’ Caitlin Miller and Bela Botelho came up with spectacular digs that led to Emily Blaettler’s kill to make it 24-24. For the first time in the match, the San Benito players had something to really get excited about. Alas, Los Altos won the next two points to take the match.
Game scores were 25-12, 25-17, 26-24. After being one of the few teams in the area not to take the court for at least a couple of matches in the Covid spring season, San Benito made a triumphant return to play this fall, finishing second in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division to powerhouse Salinas. A team heavily reliant on juniors and seniors fought to the very end.
“It’s a bittersweet moment, but I’m so proud of how we battled,” senior Mia Villegas said. “It was never over for us. We just kept going until that last point. We’re proud of how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season.”
Shae Valenzuela led the team with eight kills and solid all-around play, Blaettler had three service aces, five kills and two blocks, and Briley Lackey—the only sophomore on the team—had a team-high four blocks. Villegas was the server when the Balers had their best stretch of play near the end of Game 3.
San Benito trailed 21-11 before it won 10 of the next 12 points, highlighted by Villegas’ strong serving, three kills from Valenzuela and a stuff block from Emery Pura. Los Altos then won a point to go up 24-21 and give itself three match points.
However, San Benito played magnificent defense to force a Los Altos hitting error, and Miller’s tip forced Eagles coach Peter Kim into reluctantly calling his first timeout of the match. Out of the timeout, Blaettler had a kill to make it 24-24 before Los Altos won the final two points to clinch the outcome.
The Balers got off to an agonizingly slow start, committing several hitting and serving errors while struggling with their passing. In short, they were challenged in every facet of the game.
“It usually is like that where we start off a bit slow,” Villegas said. “Then we started making adjustments and we started playing better as we got through the sets. You could see that at the end for sure.”
Blaettler was also key in the middle portion of Game 3 as she won four points on her serve, the last two coming on back-to-back service aces. Botelho had two aces, Villegas had three kills and Miller and Audrey Blaettler finished with two kills each. Even though the Balers will graduate a host of key seniors, they’ll return several juniors who made sizable impacts this season, including Miller, Audrey Blaettler, Cassidy Blomquist, and Bethany Mondala.
For seniors like Villegas, however, the match could’ve very well been the final of their career.
“It really is hitting hard,” Villegas said. “It hit me a little bit at Senior Night, of course, but I knew there was still CCS to go. It’s a little sad knowing this could be my last volleyball game ever, but it’s good to know we finished strong and made connections and friendships that will last.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] or (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.