Kimball High is after a repeat trip to playoffs, while West and Tracy hope their experienced players can carry their teams past their toughest league opponents.
Millennium and Delta Charter high schools are building teams that could make impressions this year in their respective leagues.
Teams have a better chance this year to make playoffs based on some new rules in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
Gone is the power ratings system, which ranked teams based on a formula that included overall record, league strength and strength of pre-league opponents.
Instead, the top three teams from each league will go to the playoffs, as will any team that finishes at .500 or better in league play. That gives Tracy and West a shot if they can improve on last year’s records.
Leagues with fewer than six teams will send the top two.
Sac-Joaquin Section spokesman Will DeBoard said the change creates equity when the section formulates the postseason brackets. DeBoard noted that the power ratings system sometimes resulted in only one team representing its league in playoffs, while the league runner up didn’t rate high enough to move on.
At the same time, some leagues were strong enough in their overall records that fourth-place teams qualified, and the Valley Oak League, which has eight teams, sent five teams to playoffs, including Kimball High.
Kimball goes for repeat shot at playoffs
Kimball High’s volleyball team starts its fourth year — the third with a varsity team — with a new coach, Suzette Mendonca, who takes a step up after coaching the junior varsity team last year.
She said that the Jaguars’ first trip to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs last year inspired more girls to come out for volleyball this year.
“Our goal is to definitely make it to playoffs and make it further than we did last year and continue to improve,” Mendonca said. “With that confidence hopefully will come some more wins.”
Kimball went 7-7 in the Valley Oak League in 2011 and lost 3-0 to Bella Vista of Fair Oaks in the first round of playoffs. It was substantial progress for a team that went 0-14 in the Valley Oak League in its first varsity season, 2010, with only one win in the preseason.
Senior outside hitter Megan Bhathal, who starts her fourth year playing volleyball at Kimball, her third as a varsity player, said that just making playoffs was a milestone the 2011 team could be proud of.
“We didn’t really know what to expect, but we got there and we played. It was a challenge, but we’re going further this year,” Bhathal said.
Senior Sara Searle, also with the team all four years, including three on varsity, said last year’s playoffs created momentum for the 2012 team.
“It gives the next year an expectation to get higher up, so we can keep winning,” she said.
Returning varsity players also include juniors Vanessa Cerda, Courtney Lewis and Iris Nelson.
The Valley Oak League champion was Sonora, which went 14-0 in the VOL. Oakdale was second in the VOL at 12-2 and was a semifinalist in the Division III playoffs. Manteca, East Union and Kimball tied for third at 7-7.
West returns solid core of seasoned players
The Wolf Pack brings back a core of seniors who all were starters on the 2011 varsity.
In the months after West finished the Tri-City Athletic League season in fourth place at 3-7, many of those players continued to sharpen their skills with the Valley Rebels club volleyball team.
“We know they are committed to playing volleyball,” said senior libero Analysa Eclevia, an all-TCAL player from last year, of her teammates. “We really do have a lot of experience. We played throughout the whole year, and when we come to high school, we’re ready for it.”
Head coach Christine Toon, who is also the Valley Rebels coach, said that seven girls from West, four for Tracy High and two from Kimball were part of the Rebels team.
Players said the additional competition created a bond among the girls that will carry into the high school season.
“A lot of us are closer than we were last year with last year’s seniors. A lot of us have been playing on the same team since freshman year in both club and high school, so there’s a really strong bond,” said senior setter Kalani Vaughns. “It helped us get better, and all of us matured as players. We’re just solid now.”
Senior middle blocker Joelise Bondo added that she’s also confident in her team’s attitude.
“Nobody gets frustrated,” Bondo said. “They keep coming back. We keep everybody pumped. It’s crazy sometimes, but we try to keep everyone held together as a team.”
Returning seniors also include Bea Payumo, Daniele Schmig, Jalissa Sims and Vanessa Vasquez.
St. Mary’s was the top team in the TCAL last year at 10-0 and was the Division I runner-up after losing the championship match to St. Francis of Sacramento. Tokay and Edison tied for second at 7-3 each.
Tracy emerging stronger in 2012
Tracy High volleyball coach Mahina Tankersley focused on building a new team last year, when the Bulldogs had just one senior and two juniors.
For 2012, the team is heavy on juniors with a year of varsity experience, and some with a summer of club volleyball.
Outside hitter Angela Mariani is one of two seniors on the team.
“We’re coming back with the core team,” Mariani said. “Everyone on the team has improved a lot. We’re getting along really well, and that helps.”
Tracy had an up-and-down 2011. Six wins in a row in head-to-head preseason matches were followed by a disappointing 3-7 San Joaquin Athletic Association season.
But Tankersley said that a scrimmage on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at Heritage High in Brentwood, with no score kept, showed her team’s potential.
“Yesterday we held our own against them,” she said Wednesday. “They’re doing extremely well for this early in the season.”
The encouraging signs included the team’s ability to control the ball and make passes to the hitters at the net, a contrast from last year, when players would often make hits from the back row.
“It sounds cliché, but it all starts with a good pass. You can’t get a good set, you can’t get a good hit, if you can’t get a pass,” Tankersley said.
Junior middle hitter Samantha Gonzalez said that she’s encouraged by the solid volleyball skills she sees in her teammates.
“We’re reaching a lot more and will have a lot more good kills,” she said, adding that this will be how Tracy keeps up with its main league rivals, Lincoln and Lodi.
“We’re looking forward to playing Lincoln and Lodi, because in years past we have not been up with them, and this year I we’re playing to their level and will keep up the speed with them.”
Returning players also include senior Erica Uwaka, juniors Julia Jurado, Jill Finney, Aspen Alves and Kimberly Paschal, and sophomores Casey Eddy and Mika Fithian.
Millennium aims for winning season
Falcons volleyball coach Pamela Carroll-Adams expects this will be the year the Millennium volleyball team establishes itself with a winning season.
In five years of volleyball at the charter school, the Falcons have had a couple .500 seasons but finished short of playoffs. Last year, the team went 3-16 overall, 2-10 in the Central California Athletic Alliance.
Carroll-Adams said that the returning players from last year are ready to turn it around.
“I think this is our year,” she said, adding that it was her first year as coach, and the Falcons had a mostly new team.
“This year, there’s not one girl on this team that can’t play multiple positions, that doesn’t know what they’re doing, that can’t contribute in some way,” Carroll-Adams said. “Almost all of them have played for me last year. Some have played club ball together.”
Returning seniors include Benny Sahibzadah and Abigail and Naomi Davis, and senior Mimi Wise also joins the team. Returning juniors include Bethel Zelalem and Ericka Dominguez.
Carroll-Adams said that new juniors and sophomores will bring more height to the team and create a stronger presence at the net.
“I only have two girls who haven’t played before, but they’re really good at middle blockers,” she said. “Last year I had no height, but that’s going to play a part in us going a lot farther this year.”
The CCAA — which includes Big Valley Christian of Modesto, Brookside Christian of Stockton, Elliot Christian of Lodi and Stone Ridge Christian of Merced — plays a three-round league season. Big Valley was CCAA champion last year with a 12-0 league record.
Delta Charter builds on fledgling program
It’s the fourth year for Delta Charter to have a volleyball team. The Dragons went 2-12 in the Mountain Valley League in 2011.
Head coach Lucy Bengson, who takes over this year after serving as assistant coach, expects to turn that around.
“We’re really hopeful this year, because we have a better team, and we hope we can have a good performance,” she said.
She and assistant coach Caitlin Sarvey, both math teachers at the charter school, are working with about a dozen girls, including three returning players who Bengson expects will provide leadership for the team.
Sophomore Vanessa Sanchez was the team’s most valuable player last year and was honorable mention on the all-MLV team. Also returning are Emma Richardson and Samantha Lillak.
Bengson said that most of the new girls on the team are also new to the school. They showed up for practices this week well in advance of the start of the school year at Delta Charter, where classes begin Monday, Aug. 27, and Bengson said she will create a final roster once she confirms players are academically eligible.
“We will try to make a very friendly team and show sportsmanship at all times,” Bengson said. “The wins will be a byproduct of that.”