WATSONVILLE—Monte Vista Christian girls volleyball coach Natalie Picone may be new to the program but the first-year skipper is already finding success with the team.
The Mustangs are on the verge of bringing home a league title for the first time in nine years since winning the now-defunct Monterey Bay League Pacific Division crown.
Picone said they’ve been working on different lineups, different rotations and moving people around throughout the season. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working quite nicely.
MVC currently owns a 15-7 overall record and sit atop of the Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission Division standings at 9-1 prior to its league match against Pacific Grove on Thursday.
“[It’s] just our mental toughness,” Picone said. “We started the season off pretty well and then we started playing tougher teams. So that started messing with our head and confidence a little bit.”
However, she said the big turnaround was they kept working on mental toughness at all times. That includes check-ins every single day and setting intentions.
“We do a lot of deep breathing exercises to get ourselves right and it’s really been helping and improving,” Picone said.
MVC senior Isabella Madrigal said the mental game is a really big aspect of the game itself. She mentioned they have the skillset and persona, but it’s being able to reset mentally that’s been working for them.
“I think once we click, it’s just over,” Madrigal said. “We’re really good at covering each other, working together, trusting each other and having each other’s backs.”
Picone said they have a silly thing where they all put a finger up high and let it drop so they can “flush” everything down.
“We get all that negative energy out and it just sets our brain right,” she said.
Madrigal said she’s proud of how far they’ve come and grown together as a squad. She mentioned they’re constantly working together, fighting together and things are finally starting to click.
“We definitely have big goals and are excited to see where the rest of the season goes,” Madrigal said.
At the beginning of the year, the Mustangs established a vision board and Picone handed out contracts to keep the players in line.
The coach reminded the players they’ll continue to come back to the board whenever they need to to remember their goals, especially when they start getting off track.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Mustangs won a league championship and that might come to an end soon. At this point, nothing seems out of reach for them.
MVC will most likely qualify for a Central Coast Section playoff spot.
In 2016, they brought home a section title after beating Sacred Heart Prep in the Division IV finals.
The Mustangs were also runner-up that same year in the NorCal Division IV Regional Finals to Menlo School.
This year’s group is a mix of primarily sophomores and seniors. Picone said they’ve trying to get the quieter underclassmen to really step up and continue to be engaged.
“Be loud and connect with everyone else on the court,” Picone said. “But other than that, I love coaching here.”
Elizabeth McCuistion, a sophomore, is one of five returning players including Madrigal, Avery Coleman, Bentley Stackhouse and Abigail Rader.
McCuistion said the new players have really started to step up in a big way and she believes everybody is striving to improve.
“We’re still a young team, but everyone is working really hard,” she said.
McCuistion had to play the defensive specialist position last year after she injured her right arm. She couldn’t serve or hit and transition was hard because she was used to playing the middle position, which does not pass whatsoever.
“So, going to all passing really helped my serve/receive, which is helping us,” she said. “It really sucked when [the injury] happened but it ended up being a good thing.”
Madrigal wants to continue her volleyball career at the next level in college. She mentioned she’ll use the rest of the season to continue to improve as both a player and team captain by working on her leadership throughout the court.
“It’s a set by example thing, so I’m just really trying to better myself in order to help my teammates,” Madrigal said.
As for team goals, Madrigal believes in just persevering through everything and staying together.
“Win or lose, just being happy with how we played,” she said.
Madrigal is optimistic for the final two league matches and they still have big goals to accomplish.
“Just kind of seeing where the season goes,” she said. “Wanna finish it out with a bang. I’m really hopeful to see where this progresses and we definitely have big goals.”
MVC will look for redemption against King City, which handed the Mustangs their lone PCAL Mission Division loss of the season.
The battle of the Mustangs is slated for Oct. 25 at 6pm at Monte Vista Christian School.