For the last three seasons, the Hilmar High varsity volleyball team has consistently been one of the top programs in the area.
Three consecutive Trans Valley League titles, including Section runner-ups over the last two years is an impressive resume for head coach Patti Harris and her team.
Now, after three impressive years, the 'Jackets and last year's TVL Most Valuable Player Emily Baptista are hungry for one final run after losing only three players from last year’s team.
“We are going to focus on one thing at a time and get together before our season starts and once it starts we'll focus on one game at a time and just every point until we reach as far as we can go,” said Baptista. “We will play as hard as we can and if it doesn't work out, that's fine."
“This year's team wants it, once you go a few times you realize how hard it was especially that first year,” Harris said about being eliminated from the playoffs.
Although the 'Jackets have been successful in league, amassing a TVL record of 32-2 in three years, the Sonora Wildcats have been their Achilles heel. Sonora has eliminated Hilmar in three consecutive playoff games, including the last two Division IV CIF Sac-Joaquin Section championship games.
“None of us like to lose, but Sonora was a great team, they were too solid,” said Harris. “It was just great that we made it back again, and that right there was good since nothing was 100 percent for us, but I was proud of our team, they worked hard last year.”
It’s tough to accomplish back-to-back 38-10 seasons not to mention make the Section title game, but with the help of Baptista and returners like All-Leaguers Hannah Pearce and Mariah Ahid, the 'Jackets, which have a bigger team than last year, might be destined for a bigger push.
After notable performance from Pearce as a freshman, last year's libero will now take on the roll left by her sister Haylee [Pearce] as this year's team setter.
“She is up for the task,” Harris said of Pearce. “I have total confidence in her that she can handle it; you can just see that she knows the game, very competitive.”
The return of Riley Souza, Danielle Couchman and Avery Martin should be a great complement to Baptista who enters her final year of high school volleyball.
“We still have a lot to offer because we only lost three players,” said Baptista. “So I think the core is still there; it’s just getting those new pieces to get work and gel with one another as a team before the regular season starts.”
“All the girls are excited about the season and want to keep practicing longer; they want it, they want to get better and that's the difference when you have girls staying after practice,” Harris added. “I feel like there's a good vibe with these girls, they are mixing well, you just don't know every year.”
The Hilmar Yellowjackets volleyball squad will begin their season with a home foundation game against Pitman at 7 p.m. Aug. 31.