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Pride, Bulldogs volleyball on crash course for league title
New season, new format for CCC volleyball
Pitman volley pic1
Whitney Barnes returns to Pitman for her sophomore season, practicing with the Pride in the lead up to the beginning of the 2015 volleyball season. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

It was a respective one-two finish in the Central California Conference last season for Pitman and Turlock High’s volleyball teams.

For the Pride, their fourth consecutive league championship — the precursor to their postseason run that included Sac Joaquin Section Division I and CIF Nor Cal Division I Championships as well as a State Championship appearance—was almost expected. For the Bulldogs — who finished either fifth or sixth place in each season following their 2006 CCC Championship win — last year’s second place finish was the true definition of a turnaround season.

Now, with the 2015 season fast approaching, both Pitman and Turlock are preparing to hit the court with new roster lineups but with the same objective: dominate league and earn a playoff berth.

“This year we have a very different group, but they are still very talented and the girls have a lot of experience and play really well together,” Pitman head coach Kristen Pontes-Christian said.

The Pride are the most changed this season in term of roster, having lost eight seniors from last season including CCC powerhouses Lindsey Vander Weide and Maddy Halteman, who are currently training for seasons with the University of Oregon and Fresno State, respectively.

 “Lindsey was so strong on the court and off the court [she was] a leader; the girls looked up to her. But we talked a lot about that, in regards to losing our senior class, especially Lindsey and Maddy who were two top players of the CCC, and that we need other players to step up,” Pontes-Christian said. “Obviously, we’re going to feel a little void where Lindsey and Maddy were, but I think the other girls know they have to step up.”

Emerging as leaders for Pitman this season are senior Lauren Solis, sophomore Whitney Barnes and juniors Yisel Perez and Kiyanna Torres. Solis enters as a third year varsity player and will be expected to play all facets of the game. Barnes and Perez both return from last year’s team as well, having played big roles in the team’s success.

“We’re definitely looking to her to lead the team,” Pontes-Christian said of Solis.

“She’s been doing really well and we look to her to be a go-to player on the court,” she added about Barnes.

Pitman will also be aided by the experience of Erika Rodriguez and Kaylin Randhawa who were moved up to varsity from JV last season for Pitman’s postseason run.

“I would say that the strength coming from this team is that they play so well together,” Pontes-Christian said. “They are just so cohesive and you can’t teach that on the court.”

Turlock’s roster changes from last season are minimal, having lost only two seniors including team captain and leader Victoria Larsen. Returning to lead the Bulldogs are the sophomore duo of Jadyn Tubbs and Julia Handy and senior Emily Romo, who were instrumental in Turlock’s success last year.

“They’re very strong. Definitely ones to keep your eye on,” Turlock head coach Amber Castillon said of her returning sophomores.

Turlock will also enjoy the return of Sophie Biggler as well the addition of Isabella Bush, who will both shore up the middle.

“She’s really smart and she makes really smart choices, so it will be great to have her out there,” Castillon said of Bush.

“They’ve had some nice conditioning over the summer, so they’re in really good shape coming in, which is really nice. I think this is the first year we’ve come in physically in this good a shape,” she added about the team as a whole.

As it was last season, the 2015 race for the CCC title is likely to be waged between Pitman and Turlock. But with talent less concentrated and more evenly distributed amongst the two teams —both have players who won national championships with club teams in Barnes, Solis, Tubbs and Handy— the race should be closer, especially given the fact that the CCC will be played in double rounds as opposed to triple rounds, shortening the length of league while also extending preseason preparation and providing more in-season rest and practice.

“I am so happy about double rounds. I’ve been pushing for it for the last three years and they finally gave it to us, so I’m really excited about that. I felt like triple rounds were so long, and it was hard to motivate the girls that last round,” Pontes-Christian said.

“With three, you can’t have an off night. With two, you have to go out strong every time,” Castillon said.

Turlock’s preseason campaign begins Saturday with a scrimmage at Lincoln High that will be followed with a scrimmage against Hilmar High on Tuesday. Pitman’s preseason begins on Tuesday on the road with a scrimmage against Ripon High.

The CCC officially begins on Sept. 23 with the Pride hosting Atwater High and the Bulldogs traveling to face Golden Valley High. The crosstown rivals will meet for the first time on Pitman’s home court on Oct. 14.

“One thing about the CCC, you never count somebody out completely,” Castillon said.

“We’re not looking at what we did last year. We’re thinking new year and what’s going to work best for us,” Pontes-Christian said. “I see Turlock as probably giving us the most competition.”