By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Volleyball teams setting up for league, playoff success
PHS vb pic1
Pitman Highs Julia Brewer (9) and Vicki Rouse (1) go up for a block against Modesto High in a preseason match. The Pride are coming off a 25-8 season. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

By now, the volleyball teams have logged enough matches to have a good understanding of where they stand.

Now, they just want to move forward.

The girls of the Pitman High, Turlock High, Turlock Christian High, Denair High and Hilmar High volleyball teams all have their motivations to keep going. They have played in tournaments and competed against numerous nonconference foes, while making adjustments here and there before facing their respective league opponents.

And because of all they’ve been through so far, the teams from the local area have made progress.

In the words of Hilmar coach Patti Harris, whose team is aiming for a third consecutive postseason berth under her watch: “We’ve been getting better, better and better and we hope on being contenders in the league.”

Last season Pitman had its best season in school history. The Pride had a 25-8 overall record and made it past the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time. Having the lengthy Maci Murdock, now playing at Fresno State, was a big reason for the success.

But last season’s team hasn’t changed much. Ashley Solis, Sierrah Miller and Vicki Rouse, who all are returning as all-league players, will once again play an integral part of the Pride’s success. Solis, who is a four-year varsity outside hitter and defensive specialist, won last season’s Central California Conference Defensive Player of the Year award.

The Pride hope to finish toward the top of the league.

“To work to our full potential,” Pitman coach Kristen Pontes said when asked about her team’s expectations, “to play as one team at all times, communicate on the court, to be top three in our league and to make it to the playoffs for the third year in a row.”

Crosstown rival Turlock is working with a new coach in Amber Castillon, who says her team “can play ball with anyone.” The Bulldogs will look to their seniors for leadership, in such players as Sami Alaniz, Rebecka Miranda, Emily Smith, Taylor Ash, Alyssa Downs, Nicole Cipponeri and Baylee Lamb. Junior Sarah Day is also expected to contribute.

“Keeping the intensity and momentum up at all times and playing smart” is the approach that the Bulldogs will have this season, Castillon said.

So far, Harris’ Yellowjackets have proven they can challenge any school, no matter what level. Hilmar has beaten a handful of Division I teams.

“We don’t have big, big guns,” Harris said, adding that she has a talented, collective group, “but we could hang with the big girls, the big schools because we do a good job getting to the big hits.”

Senior Rylee McCown is a major piece to the Yellowjackets, as, Harris said, “she’s one of the two setters who runs the offense and one of our best hitters. She’s a very consistent player.”

McCown also earned all-league honorable mention in 2010.

Valerie Ewing and Alexis Alvernaz are two sophomores who are returning with varsity experience, while the Gemperle twin sisters, Savannah and Oliviah, and outside hitter Jessica Walley are all expected to contribute to Hilmar’s effort to return to the playoffs under Harris’ tenure.

 Denair is loaded with veterans, with eight of the 11 players listed on the team roster being seniors. Lauren Taylor and Christa McDiffett will lead the Coyotes as the team captains. Down the street from Denair High is Turlock Christian, which hopes to be “very competitive in our league,” Eagles coach Keith Landmeier said. “We graduated six seniors last year, so it’s almost a new team. They’ve come together very well, though.”

The Eagles’ top returners are Rebekah Muller and Arin Morelli, with newcomers Tiffany Franco, Sarah Amaral, Allison Ulrich, Alivia Mendoza and Kate Farrar expected to step right in.

“We have a couple of sophomores that are not only the future,” Landmeier said, “but are already making a substantial impact on the season. Our defensive play is very scrappy and can compete with anyone.”

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