WATSONVILLE — With 10 players returning from a historically great team, the Monte Vista Christian girl’s volleyball squad has several lofty goals. Four trump the rest: (1) win a league championship, (2) repeat as Central Coast Section champions, (3) return to the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal title game and (4), maybe the biggest of them all, do not compare yourself to last year’s team.
“The girls got a taste of going really far in playoffs and they had that finish line in their eyesight,” said Mustangs head coach Kiley Woods. “I think, especially the returning girls, they’re like, ‘hey, this is something that I want.’ But they have to remember that it’s not a sprint to the finish line right now…There’s a lot between now and then that we need to focus on and so we’re just trying to keep the girls focused on the match that they’re on right now.”
So far, so good.
The defending CCS Division IV champions have looked as dominant as advertised in their first two wins, one of which came against CCS D-III runner-up Aptos High. There might have been a few ounces of doubt as to the potential of the team when the girls joined forces during the summer but it seems like that’s all gone.
“It’s actually going really, really well,” said senior outside hitter Mattea Romo. “We’re connecting and we’re becoming a strong team. We were a strong team last year…and now we’re back again and we’re ready to go big.”
Romo is one of the 10 returning players and three seniors that tasted success plenty during last year’s 33-win campaign, which featured the program’s first section title since 1997 and its inaugural NorCal championship game berth. Seniors Kate Watts and Abbey Lynch, juniors Carson Gilroy, Christine Vea, Kailey Morrell, Cassidy Schurman and Malou Oostveen and sophomores Allie Tillery and Maddie Vea are also back.
The Mustangs, however, did lose a trio of key stars that buoyed the team in tough times. The Monterey Bay League Gabilan division’s Most Valuable Player, Sjea Anderson, graduated and is off playing Division I beach volleyball at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and her younger sister Shelby, an all-league selection last season, transferred out of the Watsonville-based private school to Scotts Valley High. Greysen Gilroy, the team’s starting setter during the past two seasons, is also gone after graduation — she now plays volleyball at Gavilan College.
Their departures left the Mustangs in a tough spot but also opened up roles, which several girls have gracefully stepped into.
Romo and Schurman, a pair of heavy hitters on the outside, have picked up the slack offensively and the stonewall duo of 5-foot-7 Lynch and 6-foot-4 Tillery lead the defense at the net. Several players will see time in the back row, including Carson Gilroy, Christine Vea and Morrell, and a trio of Mustangs are still competing for the starting setter position.
Woods said the coaching staff is currently trying to figure out the right combination but explained that they have several “nice” and “interesting” ideas.
“We have worked so hard,” Lynch said. “It was really rough in the beginning. We knew that Sjea was gone and we knew a few other players were gone and we understood that we don’t have them, so we need to fill that.”
Schurman, in particular, is expected to do big things after sitting out last year’s postseason run with an eye injury which required surgery to repair. The 5-foot-9 Schurman spent the entire summer playing beach volleyball and has added several shots to her repertoire over the offseason.
“Missing last year’s run, I think that put a fire under her,” Woods said of Schurman, who now plays with a pair of specs. “On one hand, she’s really happy for our team but she’s also, ‘that’s my team. I want to be out there.’ The competitor in her really wanted to be out there and playing last season. She’s come out on fire and it’s been fun to watch.”
Romo, who led the team in aces and was third in kills last season, can also hit with the best of them, while setting and blocking smoothly.
“It’s like having two Sjeas,” Lynch said of the Romo-Schurman duo. “They’re so good and they hit so hard. They’re both so controlled and so smart with their hitting. We did lose a really good hitter but now we have two girls that are equally as good.”
Juniors Angel Alcantar and Britlyn Coleman complete the roster.
While the Mustangs do have tons of talent, their road to accomplishing all of their goals will be anything but easy. As always, the MBL-Gabilan division will be stacked with talent. Two-time defending champion San Benito High returns several stars, too, including seniors Nicole Andrade, Kieley Hoskins and Lauren Sabbatini. Salinas High, which was the last team to dethrone San Benito and finished ahead of M.V.C. last season in second place, also figures to be a threat to capture the league title with Cal Poly-bound senior outside hitter Taylor Rose back. Notre Dame-Salinas, Christopher High, Alisal High and Alvarez High will also be no pushovers in league play.
The Mustangs said they feel good about their chances but have plenty to figure out in the days leading up to their league opener against Alisal on Sept. 14 on the road.
“We definitely still have those high expectations but it’s not so stressful like we have to fulfill those high expectations,” Romo said. “It’s more like, ‘hey, we get to work hard for this’ and it’s a good goal to have set for the future. I think that it’ll be a good thing for us during the season. It’ll help us realize that every game counts. Having a goal like that is really good and knowing that it’s possible keeps us working hard.”