Aptos High junior Jackson Bloom will help lead a young, yet talented Mariners boys' volleyball team that began Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play in March. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian)

Transitioning from one sport to another can be a daunting task for some student-athletes, especially this late in the school year.

That didn’t seem to be the case for Aptos High junior Jackson Bloom after he went from driving a basketball down the court to spiking a volleyball across the net. 

“It helped me stay in shape and it helped me improve my jumping,” Bloom said. “[But], I still have a lot of work to do.” 

It took little to no time for Bloom to get into a groove after racking up seven kills, three blocks and one ace in a sweeping three-set (25-18, 25-22, 29-27) win over Scotts Valley High in the teams’ Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League-opener March 5.  

Bloom had a chance to close the third and final set, but his serve on the match point sailed out of bounds, allowing the Falcons to hang around. His shining moment still came in the end by scoring the final two points en route to a victory. 

“I got it back in a great way and I was feeling pretty bad about about that,” Bloom said. “But I redeemed myself and it was a great way to end it, for sure.”

Aptos coach Hunter Zeng thought it was important for the players to experience a pressure situation because it feels a lot more real when down by one point and the game is on the line.

“We need that because we’re going to face a lot of big moments this season,” he said. “And so it’s important that we’re experiencing it now. It’s a great opportunity for them.” 

Since then, the Mariners beat Mount Madonna in three sets, lost to Santa Cruz in three and squeaked by San Lorenzo Valley, 3-2, in a battle that went the distance.

Aptos currently owns a 6-3 overall record. Bloom said they have a young team, so right now it’s all about development and allowing the underclassmen to gain some experience.

Bloom was part of last year’s squad that featured standouts Jonathan Marquez, Jackson Miller and the Muñoz brothers—Alonzo and Roberto.

“Those are all pin hitters, so we lost a little bit of that,” Bloom said.

The Mariners filled the void with up-and-coming players such as Iman Moshari and freshman Matty RayRay. Both are making an immediate impact in the front row. 

RayRay had 11 assists and five kills, while Moshari finished with six kills and one block in the win against Scotts Valley.

“[RayRay’s] just been great. Now that we lost some seniors, it’s great to have some good young talent,” Bloom said.

The sport of volleyball is still fairly new to RayRay, who picked up a ball just a little more than a year ago. He has experience playing with the Kinnect Volleyball Club out of Santa Cruz County.

RayRay approached his first season at Aptos excited to play at a higher level and improve faster on adaptive skills. 

It didn’t take long for him to get used to the competition, yet RayRay admitted his first game with the Mariners took time to get used to. He’s adapted quickly and now he’s playing with a sense of calmness.  

“At first it was kind of a shock for a little bit,” he said. “But then after a few games I got used to it, and after practicing with my teammates, getting better with them, I feel like I play much more confidently and I’m playing at their level.”

Zeng said RayRay is a pure athlete and a great example of what the other underclassmen should be doing in order to improve.

“I see [RayRay] being a leader in future years and we’re just really happy to have him join us and contribute,” Zeng said. “I know it can be a lot of pressure for a ninth grader to play with guys that are way older, but he’s handling it really well.”

Tony Smith and Mander Miller are also big contributors to Aptos’ success this season. Both standout players made their return from last year’s team that lost five seniors due to graduation.   

The rest of the group includes Finn Miller, Andy Villegas, Carsten Kusiak, Jacob Wilson, Ethan Henry, Matteo Villegas and Kinon Cruz.  

Zeng is always trying something new with his lineups, tending to stay away from those that are traditional and putting players to where their strengths can shine. 

“It’s less of fitting into the boxes of what each position is supposed to do, but more of being able to be a complete volleyball player,” he said. 

So far, Zeng’s unconventional method has been working for the Mariners. The players seem to be buying into the system and find themselves playing all over the court.

“Now they’re getting put in starting positions where last year they were paying attention and trying to understand the way that we do things,” Zeng said. “I feel really good about the way that they support the culture that I’m trying to create…They just love playing volleyball and it’s a joy for me to come in and work with them every day.”

League play continues at home against Soquel High on Thursday at 6:30pm. 

Zeng said Santa Cruz might be a level above everyone else in the SCCAL this season, but don’t be quick to count out Harbor and Soquel. As for the other schools (Scotts Valley, SLV and Mount Madonna), it’s safe to say they are currently in a rebuilding phase.

“[SLV] is kind of the dark horse, I don’t really know what they’re going to bring,” he said. “I want the league to be strong because that makes us strong.”

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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