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Yellowjackets volley hopes for repeat
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The Hilmar High varsity girls volleyball team practices from the Yellowjackets gym earlier in the week as they prepare for the start of the new season. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

Fifth time was the charm for the 2017 Hilmar High varsity girls volleyball team and head coach Patti Harris after the team captured the program’s first ever Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV title.

However, the victory hasn’t changed a thing at Hilmar High and Harris is taking the same approach as she always has.

They simply don’t talk about making it to the section final, despite the Yellowjackets appearing in the past five SJS D-IV Championship games.

“Sections is always in the back of our minds but we don’t talk about it,” said Hilmar junior Olivia Peterson. “We never really mention sections but I am excited because we have strong chemistry this year so I can already feel we keep getting better and better.”

“Not really any different, it’s just every year you have a different team, different people and everyone has different personalities,” said Harris. “Every team is so different and this team will be different, there is no question.”

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Hilmar High’s Emma Martin is expecting to take on the setter duties heading into the fall season for the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV champions. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ/ The Journal

Harris has embraced ‘different’ since taking over the program a decade ago.

Her teams have provided some of the most successful years in program history.

From 2013-2017, Hilmar has not only reached the Section title game, but has been nearly unstoppable in the Trans Valley League.

In that five-year frame, Hilmar has only lost twice in the TVL, posting a record of 56-2.

“Nope, have not changed anything, it’s always the same,” said Harris. “In high school you get what you get. It’s always a challenge for any coach, but Hilmar is just so great, I mean wow I don’t know how many tall girls I have… must be the milk or dairy.”

They also won 38 games twice in 2013 and 2014 while winning 36 in 2015.

However, it took them four years of heartbreak to reach the pinnacle.

Harris saw four of her teams make incredible runs into the SJS Final, only to lose.

Now, after finally bringing home the banner, she seems more relaxed than ever and is hopeful once again for a standout season from her group of 12 that includes six returners.

“Only graduated three seniors but they were key seniors, but we have girls stepping up and ready to play at those positions,” said Harris about losing two future college volleyball players. “We’ve been working all summer to improve those positions and I have a group of 12 girls and they are great. This is going to be a good team I can already tell…chemistry is really good and the girls are all getting along really well; it’s a great group of girls.”

Alongside Peterson are juniors Alondra Huerta, Emma Martin, Kayley Souza, Sierra Denys, Brandi Miller and returner Julia Gonsalves who, along with Peterson, have been on varsity since their freshman years.

Sophomore Sara Chavez and Genavieve Fontes join the squad as underclassmen while Mikela Labno is back after she had one of the most memorable freshman years to-date.

She reached state in track and field in the spring after helping lead her volleyball squad to the section finale.

Labno also reached the playoffs in the winter for girls basketball.

“It was just so humbling because you come in as a freshman and not expect to do very much and do so much at the same time,” said Labno. “Just taking it as is, play as a team and play as one, I am pretty sure we will go far this year… fingers crossed. We are going to mesh together and play as a team and the chemistry is awesome.”

Only two seniors make up this year’s team; Michaela Petersen and Makayla Fontes.

“I mean it’s the same as last year, we are just taking it one game at a time,” said Fontes. “I think our first goal is to come together as a team then after that happens then we will slowly progress to that, we don’t really talk about it, we just take it slowly and don’t want to jump to conclusions.”

Hilmar will open up the season with the foundation game set from home against the Pitman Pride at 7 p.m. Aug. 20.

“We will go out and do our thing, take it one game at a time and work hard at practice, everything else happens how it does, all these girls love volleyball,” Harris added. “I feel there is definitely balance and room for growth as well.”