WATSONVILLE — Watsonville High head volleyball coach Tom Schatz was very clear when asked what a team can learn about itself in a jamboree.
“You learn everything about a team in a jamboree,” the Wildcatz’s second-year head coach said during a Thursday evening practice in Watsonville. “It all starts with the first serve. If a girl misses a serve and everyone was counting on that being in, I’ve seen whole teams fall apart like, ‘agh, here we go again.’”
Watsonville and the five other local teams will all partake in league jamborees today at various sites. North Monterey County High and Pajaro Valley High will join the Wildcatz at North Salinas High for the Monterey Bay League Pacific division jamboree and Monte Vista Christian travels to Salinas High for the MBL-Gabilan division jamboree, while Aptos High, St. Francis High and Mt. Madonna will compete in the brand-new Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Jamboree at Santa Cruz High. All three jamborees are set for a 9 a.m. start.
There will be no points kept, meaning there will be no winners or losers. But make no mistake, there will still be plenty of pressure and nerves when the first whistle blows.
“It’ll be really good to see how the girls will handle the pressure,” Schatz said.
Several players on the area’s seven teams will be fighting for starting spots. At Watsonville, the Wildcatz have just one returning starter, senior libero Alexis Pena, from a team that finished 6-6 in MBL-Pacific division action.
Schatz said he has a good feel for what most of his girls can do but added that there’s no replacement for the real-time speed of the game. More than anything, the coach said, he wants to see who will rise as leaders of the team.
“That’s going to be a big deal,” Schatz said. “We’re still waiting for leaders to emerge. We’ll see how they step up on Saturday.”
Pena, who said she likes the new and improved attitude of this year’s team, said Saturday would serve as a dress rehearsal for the Wildcatz’s season opener, which is scheduled for Thursday. With so many new players, like seniors Julisa Vega, Evelyn Rios and Camila Milanes, Watsonville is testing out several different looks searching for the right fit.
“It’s kind of like a test run on Saturday,” Pena said. “Seeing where everyone is going to fit exactly on the court and where we need to pull in someone for a specific job.”
Pajaro Valley and N.M.C., which finished in the two bottom two spots in the MBL-Pacific division last season, will also be testing several new combinations as they try to make a breakthrough. Neither team has won a league title this decade.
M.V.C., meanwhile, will try to show that it has not taken any major steps back after last year’s historical season in which the Mustangs won their first Central Coast Section championship since 1997 and advanced to the program’s first-ever California Interscholastic Federation NorCal championship game.
The Mustangs, who finished third in the MBL-Gabilan division last season behind San Benito High and Salinas High, is trying to replace the dynamic Anderson siblings, Sjea and Shelby, and their starting setter, Greysen Gilroy. Sjea, who earned league M.V.P. honors last season, and Gilroy both graduated but Shelby decided to transfer out of the Watsonville-based private school to Scotts Valley High — the family lives just a few miles from the school’s campus.
The SCCAL jamboree will be the first of its kind and will replace the end-of-season league tournament. Each team will play at least four 20-minute rounds.
St. Francis players were ecstatic that the league finally decided to bring in a jamboree for two reasons: (1) it will show them how much firepower the rest of the teams in the league have and (2) it will allow them to adjust to their new head coach, Greg Ryan.
“It’ll be fun to see how we all play together as a team,” said St. Francis senior outside hitter Emma Ryan. “We’ve all changed since last season. We’ve all matured in different ways and found ourselves individually. I think we’ll really be able to see how we work together and what we need to work on.”
The Sharks finished 5-9 in SCCAL play in 2016 and return all but one starter. They’ll start today’s jamboree against Mt. Madonna and also play San Lorenzo Valley High, Aptos High and Soquel High. The players said sessions against CCS Division V power Mt. Madonna and four-time reigning league champ Aptos would be very telling of their potential.
“I’m excited for this because we worked over the summer, we’ve been practicing for a couple of weeks now and I’m kind of ready to put it into action,” said St. Francis senior setter Audrey Ryan, Greg’s daughter. “It’ll be fun to see how we do against the bigger teams and the other teams. I’m also a little nervous because I know what the league is. It’s my fourth year in it so I know what the competition is like. I play club with a lot of those girls. I’m nervous but I’m more excited.”
Aptos has not lost a league game since 2014 and last year advanced to its first CCS championship game since 1995. But the Mariners this season do have the tough task of replacing two-time league MVP Elise Coash.
Senior Madelin Smith, a breakout star at opposite last season, and junior Jillian Rodriguez will try to continue the Mariners’ domination of the league this season.
Aptos starts its day against Scotts Valley and will also play Mt. Madonna, Santa Cruz and San Lorenzo Valley.
Mt. Madonna, which has all but one player returning from a talented but inexperienced team, starts its day against St. Francis and will go on to play Aptos, Santa Cruz, Harbor High and Scotts Valley.