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Yellowjackets volleyball ready for post-Baptista era
Hilmar volley 3
Hilmar's Mariah Ahid will be playing as an outside hitter after finishing second in serving aces at 79 and was first with 50 blocks on the team. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

It was just a matter of time before Hilmar High would have to say goodbye to one of their best volleyball players, if not the best, outside hitter the school has ever seen in Emily Baptista.

Heading into the 2016 season, Baptista is already practicing with her collegiate team at University of Pacific and her alma mater, Hilmar, is preparing for the new era that does not include their superstar for the first time in four years.

“Any school who loses an athlete like Emily, it's always hard but this team coming in, they are going to surprise people,” said Hilmar head coach Patti Harris. “I think we have the talent and I feel like they are going to mesh well and will have to rely on each other since Emily is gone. They will all have to pull together and I think they are going to do well.”

The Yellowjackets will look for leadership this season in their returning all-league selections in Hannah Pearce and Mariah Ahid.

“Ever since I saw Mariah as a freshman I knew she would be a strong outside hitter because of her power,” said Harris.

As a sophomore Ahid was second on the team in total kills with 232, mostly playing the middle position. She also ranked second in serving aces with 79, only 12 behind Baptista.

Ahid also topped all with 50 total blocks in 115 sets played.

“Mariah played middle since she was 12 and it's the first time ever she will be playing the outside, but she is a natural, you can just see it,” said Harris. “She has worked so much in the offseason and is a lot stronger this year. She can still improve her strength, which will help her.”

This year's 'Jackets team will also benefit with the return of arguably the best setter in the Trans-Valley League. Last year Pearce was second with serving aces at 74. Pearce also tallied a staggering 1,036 assists in 115 sets played.

Pearce and Ahid were just two of three who played 115 sets for the season.

Last year's 'Jackets team amassed an overall record of 36-8 and 12-0 in the TVL, earning a third consecutive undefeated year in the TVL.

“First of all I think this team coming total diversity, I have two freshmen, one sophomore, three juniors and four seniors,” said Harris. “So I have a big spread and they are all very talented.”

Erin Benning is also another returner for Hilmar who should help the team with her height, standing over 6-foot-1. Benning played 105 sets as a sophomore last year and tallied 75 kills, and was third on the team in total blocks (32).

Although the team is more vulnerable than it has been over the past four years, coach Harris is looking for the progress her team will be making as the year wears on.

One of the big assets is that all of the 10 players on this roster all play club volleyball.

Harris will welcome former setter and all-league selection Haylee Pearce as her assistant.

The team will also include a duo of freshmen prospects who expect to get big playing time this year: Olivia Peterson and Julia Gonsalves, both of whom who play club with Rage volleyball in Ripon, a national contender.

Also look to Kassidy Mendes, Miranda Gray, Brittany Yarnell and Madisen Petersen to account for majority of the team's sets played.

“I also lost six seniors from last year, but this community always does a great job, this town puts out so many great athletes for such a small town and they always feed into the program,” said Harris of Hilmar.

“I don't think we will be a push over at all,” Harris added. “We already started with our yearly talk but talking about our goal and the big thing is to get the basic stuff to respect each other.”

Hilmar's first preseason contest will include a tournament hosted at home where the team will face Enochs, Turlock and Tracy High at 4 p.m. Aug. 23.