WATSONVILLE — Sjea Anderson was just a freshman when she got her first taste of varsity volleyball action.
Monte Vista Christian head coach Kiley Woods was missing a couple of players because of injuries and decided to move up the bright-eyed Anderson as an insurance policy. The plan was for her to sit on the bench, cheer on her teammates, get a feel for the speed of a varsity practice and, maybe, rotate in for a handful of points as a defensive specialist.
That strategy changed almost instantly. Anderson showcased the athleticism, smarts and drive that most high school players do not develop until their senior season — if ever. She played big points for shorthanded M.V.C. in a critical Monterey Bay League Pacific division match against Monterey High.
The Mustangs lost the match in four but Anderson had made the most of her audition.
She never moved back down to the junior varsity level. Instead, she became a key rotation player for the Mustangs in their run to a Monterey Bay League Pacific division co-championship in 2013.
“We threw her in there — into the fire,” Woods said. “I remember thinking after that game, ‘we’re gonna keep her.’ I think we’re all pretty happy with our decision.”
In retrospect, that decision changed not only Anderson’s passion for the game but the direction of the program. The always-cool and powerful outside hitter carried M.V.C. volleyball to new heights in the fall and rekindled her love of soccer in the winter, while also holding a 4.1 grade point average in the classroom. Now, the Pajaronian is bestowing our highest honor on Anderson, naming her our Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
For Anderson, who will play NCAA Division I beach volleyball for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next year, individual accomplishments were aplenty this season. She was not only named to the MBL-Gabilan division’s First Team but also earned Most Valuable Player honors, despite the Mustangs’ third-place finish in the league. And at the conclusion of her spectacular final campaign she earned a spot on MaxPreps’ All-State Division IV team.
Her personal success powered M.V.C.’s team triumphs.
The Mustangs stunned the CCS Division IV bracket to capture the program’s first section championship since 1992, beating powerhouse Sacred Heart Prep for the title. They then ran the gauntlet in the state playoffs to reach the program’s first-ever California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Division IV championship game, where they lost to eventual state champ Menlo School.
“It’s still hard to believe we accomplished all that,” said Anderson, who also played varsity soccer for head coach Morgan Miller. “It just shows how much love and dedication we have for the sport.”
That love and dedication, Woods said, started from Anderson and trickled its way down to the rest of the team.
M.V.C. was very talented but extremely young. Anderson and setter Greysen Gilroy were the only seniors on a 13-player roster that was expected to be competitive in the MBL-Gabilan and advance to the CCS playoffs. But with Anderson’s team-first leadership the Mustangs played well beyond their limitations.
Anderson faced double and triple teams throughout the season and was more than OK with the challenge, knowing her teammates would be freed up on the other side of the attack or in the middle.
Despite the added defensive support, teams still had a tough time slowing Anderson down this seasons. She finished third in the CCS in kills (438) and second in kills per set (5.2), while also holding the section’s eighth highest hitting percentage (.348). She was also a defensive standout, tallying the eighth most digs in the section among outside hitters (358) and consistently passing above a 2.0 throughout the season.
“She’s just all-around a really quality player and person and that’s consistent on the court and off,” Woods said. “She has the skill set for volleyball — she can do it all — but her intangibles in terms of leadership are what set her apart. She was irreplaceable.”
Anderson was a vocal leader but she was never overpowering. It didn’t matter if the Mustangs were up by 10 points in a preseason game, fooling around during a laid-back Monday afternoon practice or down a handful of points in the deciding set of a CCS playoff match, her tone never changed. For her teammates, hearing Anderson’s voice between points was like the soothing sound of water rolling through a creek.
Always knowing what to say and how to say it was just one of several leadership qualities Anderson had in her tool box.
“It is stressful,” Anderson said. “It’s just you and the ball. Everyone’s watching and if you make a mistake everyone’s going to see. I definitely don’t get flustered and I stay calm. I think that helps calm everyone down in those tough moments.”
She said her mellow and down-to-earth personality comes from her dad, Dan.
Her competitiveness and fire, she said, comes from her mom, Margaret, who played and coached college volleyball in the past and is now a AAA-rated beach volleyball player.
The oldest of three, Anderson said her parents never put pressure to set the right example for her younger siblings, Shelby and Svea. She said her giving personality developed from spending a majority of her childhood with Clara Olson, a family friend from the Community Covenant Church of Scotts Valley that babysat the trio of sisters. Having a father that worked hours and hours of overtime to keep her and her siblings playing club volleyball also influenced her altruistic nature.
“That’s a great trait for your star athletes to have,” Woods said. “When you pair that skill with her unselfish personality, you get something special.”
Despite her love for the game of volleyball, Margaret never pushed her daughter into the sport. Anderson grew up playing soccer, dancing and singing. It wasn’t until the sixth grade at Scotts Valley Middle School that she finally started to focus on volleyball.
Named the team’s M.V.P. in seventh grade and having plenty of success at the club level, Anderson said her confidence started building but never ballooned out of control. At the same time, her understanding of the game began to grow.
When she was moved up to the varsity level as a freshman she started to comprehend rotations, offenses, defenses, angles and anticipation. Playing club volleyball under coach Ralph Smith with Main Beach during her sophomore year also helped raise her volleyball IQ. She started to understand that the game was more chess than checkers and that mathematical side only made her love it more.
“I love logic and it kind of relates to what happens on the court,” Anderson said.
By the time her senior season came around, she had mastered nearly every shot from spending numerous hours on the court and beach. Her numbers and accomplishments were proof of her growth.
“It was fun to watch her progress throughout the years,” Woods said. “As a sophomore, that was her first year starting, so you saw her getting that comfort level of playing a full varsity season. Then her junior year she started stepping into the leadership role. She was taking on more responsibility…Her senior year, her and Greysen really took ownership of the team. They said ‘this is our team’ from the start…She’s grown so much.”
Female Student-Athlete of the Year finalists
Hannah Hocom, Aptos, So. >> Hocom led the Mariners’ girl’s basketball program to its first CCS championship since 1983. The deadeye sophomore averaged a team high 15.1 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the field. She finished with the fifth most made 3-pointers in the CCS (72). In Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League action, Hocom starred for Aptos in its best league season in recent memory. The Mariners finished with a 10-2 SCCAL record and advanced to the SCCAL tournament final. Hocom was named an All-SCCAL First Team selection.
Marea Zlatunich, Aptos, Jr. >> Zlatunich had one of the best cross country seasons in all of California. She helped Aptos to its fifth consecutive SCCAL title, sixth straight CCS Division III crown and a third-place finish at the CIF Division III Championships. Individually, Zlatunich took second at league finals but then rebounded in a big way at the CCS Championships, winning the section’s Division III individual crown while running the fastest time at the Crystal Springs Cross Country Course for the 2016 season. At the CIF meet, she finished fourth in the Division III race and qualified for the Foot Locker National Championships.
Elise Coash, Aptos, Sr. >> The four-year varsity star saved her best season for last. Coash, who will play NCAA Division I volleyball for UC Irvine next season, carried Aptos to its most successful season since the turn of the century. The Mariners completed their undefeated run through the SCCAL regular season and won the league tournament for the first time since 2009, while also reaching their first CCS championship game since 1995. She was named the SCCAL MVP for the second straight season when it was all said and done.
Delaney Moore, MVC, Sr. >> Moore was as dominant as ever in her final season at Monte Vista Christian. The 6-foot-1 forward led her team in nearly every statistical category, averaging 17.8 points, 10 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 4.6 steals and 4.5 blocks per game. She set a school record in points (33) and blocks (12) in a single game this season, too. Guided by Moore’s brilliance, the Mustangs finished 18-8 overall and took second place in the MBL-Gabilan. She was named the league’s co-MVP for the second straight season.
Jessica Rodriguez, Watsonville, So. >> Rodriguez was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the entire CCS while leading the Wildcatz to their first-ever section crown. Rodriguez, already committed to play NCAA Division I softball for UNLV, led the CCS in strikeouts (253) and wins (22), while also posting the fourth lowest earned run average (0.80) in the section. Rodriguez helped Watsonville finish with a 24-4 overall record and allowed only two runs during the team’s postseason run. She was also a more than serviceable hitter, holding a .528 batting average in 37 plate appearances. The MBL-G recognized Rodriguez as its Pitcher of the Year.
Savanah Quintana, Watsonville, Jr. >> Quintana sparked the Wildcatz on the basketball court and the softball diamond. As a guard in the winter, Quintana scored a team-high 14.4 points per game while also pulling down six rebounds and dishing four assists a night. She helped Watsonville’s girl’s hoops team to a 16-8 overall record. As the black and gold’s shortstop in the spring, Quintana hit .473 with 35 hits, 33 runs, 17 RBIs, eight doubles and two triples. Her glove and range in the middle infield was a key cog in Watsonville’s historic CCS title run. She was named an all-league first team selection in both sports.