With COVID concerns carrying over into the fall, the Pitman and Turlock high school girls volleyball teams are hoping their winning records from last year’s shortened season will follow.
The Bulldogs and the Pride both celebrated winning seasons in the spring, after the pandemic forced their season to be played during the second half of the school year. Pandemic woes have continued this fall for the Pride, like many other sports, who went without four of their players last week thanks to COVID exposure.
Still, Pitman mustered a 3-2 overall record during that time, defeating Hughson Thursday night in a straight sets sweep and boasting victories over Central Catholic and Hilmar in the two matches prior. With eight returning seniors on the squad this year, Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian is hoping for big things in a tough Central California Athletic League.
She was especially proud of her team for defeating Central Catholic in five sets last Tuesday.
“It was back and forth...For the 10 players that we had on the court to get it done even though we were missing players and with everything going on right now, it was a big one,” Pontes-Christian said.
Another big game was the Pride’s defeat of Hilmar last Monday during the annual Foundation Game, which was Pontes-Christian’s 300th win as Pitman’s head coach. With the likes of middle blockers Taylor Vannest and Lauren Hamilton, outside hitter Mimi Verdone, setter Julia Magnu and libero Reese Carmona, she’s set to well surpass that number this season even with the added complications of COVID.
“We just had a really long conversation about appreciating every day and not taking it
for granted, because with COVID you just never know,” Pontes-Christian said. “The main thing that we're trying to focus on is just appreciating the time that we get together and hoping that we get to continue and finish our season together. And I’ll just have to make adjustments as needed.”
At Turlock High, head coach Amber Lugo is optimistic about the season despite the Bulldogs’ loss to St. Mary’s last Thursday. Even with the loss against the Stockton school, Turlock was still 5-2 overall as of Friday with big wins over Hilmar, Oakdale and Los Banos, as well as a 2-1 showing at the Stockton kickoff tournament.
“We’re finding our way. We’re young in some ways, and losing last year, everybody’s a year behind. It looks like I have a lot of juniors, but really they’re kind of like sophomores,” Lugo said. “Consistency is our main goal.”
The Bulldogs lost eight seniors to graduation following the spring season, Lugo added, meaning that many of the girls on this year’s team have little varsity experience. They won one set against St. Mary’s, however, showing that they can play with whoever they set their mind to.
“It’s always good for us to get that gauge because they’re a tough school and a great program,” she said.
Players to watch for the Bulldogs this season include the sister duo of Katie and Lauren Parker, as well as senior outside hitter Abby Cogburn.
“There are 12 girls here who have the best hearts and they work very, very hard,” Lugo said. “I truly see us just continuing to improve and have better outcomes.”
Pitman and Turlock will both take on Tracy High at their home courts on Sept. 8 and 14, respectively, before beginning CCAL play on Sept. 16.