When Bess Haldi took the helm of the boys volleyball program at Heritage High School three years ago, she admittedly had her work cut out for her. With only a freshman and a sophomore class to draw from, the veteran coach assembled a team of inexperienced young athletes and went about establishing the program.
None of them had ever really played volleyball before. They were all thumbs, Haldi recalls. But they worked hard and came to really understand the game and what they need to do as individuals for us to be successful as a team.
Now juniors and seniors, Haldi's players are true competitors in the Bay Valley Athletic League, having opened the season with a 2-1 record with wins over Antioch and Liberty and a loss to Deer Valley.
They're really coming to understand each other's strengths and are playing to them in game situations, Haldi said. They take direction really well but they can also think for themselves out there which is great, since this is their team.
Haldi credits much of the team's success to an off-season in which the players got their first taste of club volleyball. Haldi, who currently coaches a club team in Tracy, said playing at that level not only helped her players learn more about their individual positions; it also instilled a deeper love for the game.
They learned so much in that short amount of time and it really showed in their game. Their communication is excellent right now; they finally know where they're supposed to be, she said. They seem even more excited about the sport.
Heritage would have been more excited about its 25-20, 25-16, 16-25, 25-15 win over friendly rival Liberty on March 18, a first in program history, but the Patriots were forced to achieve that milestone without one of their key players.
We lost Aaron Castillo this year. He plays for Liberty now and although it was nice to win, it was kind of bittersweet, Haldi said. Aaron was a big part of our team and we miss him very much.
But life goes on for the Patriots, who look to junior setter Kyle Jones to lead the offensive attack. One of the team's stronger jump servers, Jones reads the court well but can also be called in for kills to back up outside hitters Jacob Fredrickson and Michael Favolora. Senior Greg Uwaechi, a powerful force at the net, replaces Castillo at middle blocker.