Four. That is the number of consecutive times that the Hilmar High varsity volleyball team has reached the Division-IV Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game.
Unfortunately, the Yellowjackets have found themselves on the losing end in all four of their games despite a tremendous effort.
This, along with a lengthy successful resume for head coach Patti Harris, which includes a handful of Trans-Valley League titles, and winning seasons from 2011 till now, seem to have the 2017 team more than optimistic about the year ahead.
“What I’ve seen so far, it's exciting. Everyone likes each other, you can see it and feel it, and that's half the battle,” said Harris. “The team seems to already be coming together and that's a great feeling, super sweet kids and great group and I think these girls are going to do well this year, I know they are.”
Hilmar is coming off a year where the team went 23-14, took second in the Trans-Valley League and reached the Section finale, facing TVL foe Ripon for the banner.
This was their fourth straight time there and their fourth straight defeat.
“I always tell the girls, we don't talk about stuff like that,” said Harris when asked about four straight losses. “Every year you have to create that team, you have to come and compete together and create something tight and then we will go from there.”
A little less than a year later and the Yellowjackets look revamped and excited for what's ahead.
The 'Jackets will rely on three of their four-year varsity seniors who head into their final season with higher expectations than previous years. Those three are Erin Benning, Mariah Ahid and Hannah Pearce, who are all-league returners and are getting numerous looks from universities from all around the country.
“Hannah and Mariah and Erin will be the foundation, they have a ton of experience,” said Harris. “These girls are very solid. I have a pretty solid team to start off with.”
The team also returns Makayla Fontes, Madison Aguiniga and Michaela Petersen, among six juniors, and also welcomes back three sophomores — Olivia Peterson, Kayley Souza and Julia Gonsalves. Harris will also have the addition of one freshman to the varsity squad.
“All except for one play in club volleyball, they are all dedicated and have passion and you can see it and feel it,” said Harris. “We never jump too ahead of the line, you set team goals and individual goals and just keep moving forward. I feel this team is solid already, it's exciting to see.”
Harris also expects her team to be in the mix for a TVL title, but strongly emphasizes the team’s goal to take it one game at a time.
“We are going to go out there and learn to play like a machine and do all the things that makes a team first, if we can do that then all results happen, the TVL is always tough,” Harris added. “Right now, we just want one game at a time and keep constantly moving forward and results will show with how hard we have worked.”
The squad will also have the luxury of having former player Haylee Pearce assisting as well as Jessica Walley.
“I love getting the girls who want to be part of it to coach eventually, I love that when they come back,” Harris added. “I also have my daughter Madison helping me as well. What matters to me is what these girls can do within themselves, but that is what we can focus on and control and not worry about others.”
The first exhibition game for Hilmar is scheduled to be against Pitman on the road at 7 p.m. Aug. 28.