There is no question that the most consistent and most successful high school varsity volleyball program in the Sac-Joaquin Section over the past three seasons has been the Pitman Pride.
Head coach like Kristen Pontes-Christian has built a powerhouse — it took time, patience and an ability to promote team mentality consistently year in and year out.
“I think for this group, we are really focusing on learning from preseason, not worrying about wins and losses but working on what to work on together as a team,” said Pontes-Christian.
The Pride graduated eight players and return six from last year’s team. One of last year’s standouts, Whitney Barnes, suffered a season-ending injury prior to the start of tryouts and won’t be on the court this year. Barnes was part of the last three Section title runs.
“We still have six returning, four seniors, two juniors, so just having six returning is great,” said Pontes-Christian. “I think the seniors, because of Whitney’s absence, will have to step up. It's the little things that count the most, since we are working on one team at a time.”
As always, the coach emphasized that they are not overlooking a single opponent, which could explain the elite level the Pride have reached over the past half-decade.
Last season, the Pride continued their streak of Central California Conference titles, earning number six with a record of 11-1. Their only loss came to Section runner-up and crosstown rivals, Turlock High.
“We are not overlooking one team and it will be one set at a time and then as league progresses, of course, not trying to stress postseason since we have younger girls,” said Pontes-Christian. “I don't want to overwhelm them, they know what they are capable of doing, we will have specific goals set since we have those little things.”
With Barnes out for this year, the others who will have to step up and in for her include returners Madison Wood, Grace Willming, Emma Hirschkorn along with Fallon Evans, Kaylin Randhawa and Emily Vander Weide.
“We have leadership capabilities and talent, it’s just putting the team chemistry together and make sure it happens and it comes with practice,” said Pontes-Christian.
Some new names coming in to varsity are Avery Carlson and Cierra Verdone.
“Also, my dad is assisting me this year, actually being my assistant and I feel good, we work really well together,” Pontes-Christian added. “He had volunteered, but now officially retired and has an official position since he is nonstop thinking volleyball.”
The first game for the Pride will be a road scrimmage against Oakdale at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.