It was a rollercoaster last year in the Central California Conference for local high school volleyball teams. Pitman High blazed through the conference going undefeated with a 15-0 record, while Turlock went 1-13 and struggled with a young team going through a reconstruction phase in coach Amber Castillon’s second year.
“We struggled last year because we didn’t have much height and not much in the middle. I had one player that could play everywhere and I started her in the middle and then moved to the 6-2 and we finally got into a comfort zone,” Castillon said. “There were also jelling problems. But we're excited; we're just a very young team. The youngest I have ever had.”
“I feel like we lost some key players from last year, but then again we have a lot of returners and outstanding JV players coming up this year,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes said. “I think this year we will compete in league. Our focus this season is to definitely go further than the previous (season).”
The Pitman Pride finished in first place with an overall record of 29-6-2, while the Bulldogs finished in last place at 5-15. Pitman’s early exit in the playoffs was a bit of a surprise after winning 12 of their final 14 regular season games by straight sets and outscoring league opponents 45-4.
This year coach Pontes knows her squad will be stronger and prepared for anything.
“We can never think any match will be ours. We will need to go out and fight it out, every match,” Pontes said. “We should be proud of what we have accomplished. All the girls are up for the challenge and it is going to be a fun season.”
Pitman is looking to repeat its successful campaign or perhaps finish a better year into what Pontes says to be one of the most talented squads she has ever coached that includes six seniors, seven juniors and only one sophomore.
“Tryouts were super difficult this year. It was impossible to cut anybody else because they all deserved it. I think we will be just as tough as last year, if not better than we have ever been,” Pontes said.
Last year’s CCC defensive player of the year, Lindsey Vander Weide, will be the outside hitter after playing in the middle last season as only a sophomore. Maddy Halteman, who is one of the team’s strongest players, will be the setter and leader for this year’s varsity squad after starting as a sophomore last season. Lauren Solis, the squads only underclassmen will be a force to be reckoned with on defense. Angelica Harding will be a power hitter in the outside spot.
“Maddy will be focusing on being a leader, considering she was only a sophomore last year, and it makes it hard to lead juniors and seniors as a lower classman,” Pontes said. “Solis, who is our youngest player, will be a great defensive asset to this team coming up from freshman volleyball last year.”
With only three seniors in this year’s Turlock squad, including four juniors, four sophomores and one freshman, the Bulldogs make up one of the youngest teams in the CCC.
Katie Green will be the only incoming freshman for the varsity ‘Dogs as she will fill the gap left in the middle. Emily Romo, Madison Mayol, Lauren Clark and Nicolette Santos will be the sophomores joining the other seven upperclassmen.
“All our juniors are first year players,” Castillon said. “Green will be a huge asset and should help us with blocks mainly. Then our sophomores coming up are also significant players.”
Victoria Larsen will be one of team leaders and returning stars playing in the middle. Senior Courtney Crivelli will be playing center in her fourth year after starting varsity as a freshman.
“We're going against some tough teams this year,” Castillon said. “We will see how we match up, but we're young, excited, and there is a good vibe. We have been trying to get to varsity speed, but we are working on it."
The first match for the Pride volleyball team will be Sept. 17, as they face off against Merced High at home at 4 p.m. Turlock High will open up the season at 6 p.m. Sept. 5, as they face off against Hilmar High at Hilmar.