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Volleyball squads emphasize unity
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Turlock High setter Miranda Thomas is considered an integral part of this season’s Turlock High volleyball team. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

Attend any high school volleyball match and it’s hard to deny the obvious: The sport revolves on team chemistry, with the girls often coming together for a quick group meeting after every play that usually involves the slapping of hands and words of encouragement.

This year’s batch of area teams understands the importance of unity, as every player and coach will tirelessly stress that. Once they have that down, the only other thing they worry about is playing well together on the court.

Turlock, Pitman, Turlock Christian, Denair and Hilmar all understand this — and they’re looking forward to proving their worth this season.

Pitman is aiming for its third consecutive playoff berth. That looks very likely with the talent the Pride have back this season. Plus, they’re reintroducing Maci Murdock, the senior middle blocker who was sidelined last season because of an ankle injury. She comes in with national recognition after being named to an All-America Watch List and spending last summer at USA Volleyball Nationals, alongside teammates Sierrah Miller and Ashley Solis.

Along with Annabel Perez also playing a key role, the Pride are hoping for a deep playoff run. And yes, they hope to do it by working together.

“This is a good group of girls,” coach Kristen Pontes said. “All work hard and their work ethic is good and they like to have fun.”

A few miles away at Turlock High, the Bulldogs are working with a young team. Only six of the 14 players on the roster have club experience, coach Ellie Cornfoot said. But they’ll be operating with four returning seniors in Miranda Thomas, Kelli Knapp, Madison Griggs and Alex Cruz.

Cornfoot said her team might struggle at first but will eventually evolve into a competitive team later in the season: “I hope they keep the intensity and they don’t get too comfortable. I hope they find the hunger to completely dominant teams—in the nicest way possible.”

For Turlock Christian, the Eagles have goals of reaching the Sac-Joaquin Section finals. The last time they did that was in 2007, when TC lost to Ripon Christian in four sets.

This season, the Eagles have strength all over the court, coach Keith Landmeier said. Their top players are Rebekah Muller, Molly Farrar, Kara Gabrielson, Molly Zuhlke and Kaisa Spycher. But before striving for a Section appearance, TC wants to own the Southern League crown.

Also in the Southern League is Denair, which welcomes coach Tracie Schell, who was an assistant for the Coyotes last season. They will look to improve from their 11-14 overall in 2009, when they also went 6-9 in the league.

Some of Denair’s key players are Christa McDiffett, Lindsey Stafford, Dacy Lewis and Kristen Wade. Those players along with their teammates have built a team bond by participating in community-driven events, like serving the homeless, helping with toy drives and cleaning the city’s streets and parks.

At Hilmar, second-year coach Patti Harris is encouraged by her Yellowjackets. They have four returning seniors in Riley Harris (who was an all-league player last season), Ashlan Wickstrom, Morgan Gilbreath and MacKenzie Souza, in addition to having two freshmen, Alexis Alvernaz and Valerie Ewing, on the roster.

The Yellowjackets will venture back into the Trans Valley League this season, and Patti Harris said the opposing teams will be tough.

And just like the other area teams, the Yellowjackets have something that they believe will benefit them: team unity.

“This team is a really good team and they play together as a team,” Patti Harris said. “And they understand what the word ‘team’ means, and that’s very important in volleyball.”

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.