There was a lot of noise surrounding Monday night’s varsity volleyball matchup between crosstown rivals Pitman and Turlock.
Like any good rivalry, the fans who filled the Pitman gymnasium were loud, especially since both teams entered the match undefeated at 3-0. The Pride have also been hearing plenty of praise, as they are ranked as the third best team in all of the Sac-Joaquin Section by MaxPreps.com and have been the only team to have multiple players named the Turlock Journal’s Athlete of the Week thus far in 2023.
It’s all noise that the Pride are admittingly learning to deal with as they go, and Monday was a prime example of that.
The opening set went back and forth, eventually ending in a 27-25 win for Pitman. Eighteen of Turlock’s 25 points in the set came courtesy of 16 errors and a pair of faults from Pitman. After that, the Pride quickly ramped up their attack to win the last two sets by 25-20 and 25-15 scores.
“We need to start stronger and we need to remove the jitters and just play our game,” said Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian. “We can talk about the stands being full and Turlock having as many fans here as we did, but it still stuns them a little bit, but I think we recovered well. Knowing that we can control our side and not worrying about what's going on over on that side or about what’s surrounding us is when we do the best.”
Doing what she does best was sophomore Maryn Hall, who led all players with 14 kills. She joined seniors Avery Ahlem (13) and Ella Sniezek (10) with double-digit kills.
“She just attacks, attacks and attacks,” Pontes-Christian said of Hall. “ She just played good for us tonight. She has done it all season, but tonight, she definitely stepped up when we needed her.”
Hall agreed with her coach that nerves may have impacted the play of her and her teammates.
“I came out and had so much adrenaline and I was so nervous, but I realized that in those pressure situations, I just need to stay composed and just focus on the game. Once I did, we started pulling away and eventually got the win.”
Helping Hall, Ahlem, Sniezek and others go on the offensive was senior Payton Rowell, who had 41 assists.
As for the Bulldogs, leading the way for kills were junior Lauren Parker with eight and freshman Amelia Spaulding with six. Senior Nikkie Miranda pitched in with 21 assists and had seven digs on the defensive side of things.
Despite the loss Turlock head coach Amber Lugo was impressed with the way her young team of 12 players (just five seniors) hung in with one of the toughest teams in the region.
“We’re young, but I’m so excited for the future,” Lugo said. “I’m very proud of them. They showed up tonight.”
But don’t think that the Bulldogs are happy with just a good effort. As the Pride improved to 25-2 overall and 4-0 in Central California Athletic League play, Turlock remains in second place and in the hunt for a playoff spot with a 16-8 overall record and 3-1 CCAL record.
“We just need to keep having more reps,” Lugo said. “We have some work to do on defense. Setting and receiving is always an issue on every team in the world, we’re just going to keep doing what we do and get better. It’s what we’ve done all year.”
Meanwhile, Hall and the Pride hope to stop making things harder on themselves in the early going of matches and to continue their winning ways.
“I don’t think it’s pressure, but more excitement,” Hall said. “We’re excited to keep it going and play against tougher competition in the playoffs, hopefully. We just need to relax and we’ll get there.”
‘Resilient’ TC Eagles soar to thrilling win
The dream of having an opportunity to win a game for your team is a common one amongst athletes, and Turlock Christian freshman quarterback Christian Gonzales seized his opportunity Saturday afternoon.
With their eight-man game against Kern Resource Center tied at 32 halfway through the fourth quarter, Gonzales saw an opening and tucked the ball in his arms, punching it in to give his team an eventual 38-32 victory.
“We have a small team, but they have heart, resilience, they work hard, they represent the culture of our school beautifully, they play for God, they play for each other,” said head coach Michael McFadden. “I just can’t be more proud of them.”
Also scoring throughout the day was sophomore wide receiver Michael Perez, senior running back Zeke Flowers, freshman receiver Jake Dein and freshman wideout Trent Watje.
“They are very young. They’re mostly ninth graders. We have like one junior and one senior. When we first got them, I mean, [I wondered], ‘Are we even going to be able to put a team on the field?’ But how they’ve grown has been leaps and bounds… For them being as young as they are, they compete like they’ve been playing for years,” McFadden added.
The win improved the Eagles to 2-1 on the season. Being a freelance team without a league, they are left with five games on the schedule - all on the road. McFadden is optimistic about his team’s chances moving forward.
“[Kern Resource] gave us a great game and a great test,” he said. “They competed hard for their school and their community. Honestly, I love games like that. I know they made us better and I hope we made them better.”