VB Ready to Compete 'at a High Level'

Freshman outside hitter Genesis Virgin in a Sept. 17 home game against Los Medanos
Freshman outside hitter Genesis Virgin in a Sept. 17 home game against Los Medanos

As of Sept. 23, Hartnell Volleyball had eight of the 20 players ranked for individual statistics among all five rosters in the Coast North Conference.

Freshman middle blocker Aaliyah Foster, a 2020 graduate from Everett Alvarez High School, held four of the 40 available top-five spots in eight ranking categories, including the top slot in hitting percentage, at .314, and No. 2 in both kills per set (2.8) and total kills (98).

Four of her teammates occupied two slots each: Karmyn Anderson (outside hitter, Everett Alvarez), Kanoe Kahana (outside hitter, Ewa Beach, Hawaii), Jazmine Aguilera (libero, Soledad), Yesenia Soria Campa (middle blocker, Alisal) and Samantha Montelongo (right-sidem Alisal).

Pedroza said Aguilera has proven to be a defensive anchor: "She leads the charge with her digs and back-row play for sure." Anderson has also played well on D. "The two of them duke it out for the highest number of digs," the coach said. Campa is the team's tallest player, at 6 feet 1, with outside hitter Sophie Poduska (Provo, Utah) not far behind at 5 feet 11.

The Panthers' early-season record of 5-6 obscures their depth and post-season potential. They are hitting their stride just as the conference season approaches, starting on the road at Cabrillo on Sept. 29, then at home against San Jose on Oct. 1.

More meaningful are their three straight wins since Sept. 15, including at nearby Gavilan in the Coast South Conference.

"Honestly, that was the goal this last week – to win all three matches," said Hartnell Head Coach Jamie Pedroza. "I'm really proud because they said they wanted to win all three, and they accomplished their goal."

The Panthers have just one sophomore and 13 freshmen, including seven who graduated from high school in May and mostly missed out on competition last year due to the pandemic. Last fall, Pedroza had to get to know many of the players who graduated the previous May through Zoom.

"We were just trying to keep them engaged and doing fun activities the best we could to get to know each other, she said.

Then, beginning last spring, the team began training together – first on the softball field and then with nets set up on the Hartnell tennis courts. They played two matches with Ohlone in April, one in Fremont and one at home.

Like other Hartnell coaches, Pedroza has challenged her young squad with tough non-conference opponents in the early going, including Fresno, currently top-ranked in the California Community College Athletic Association. Hartnell hosted the Rams on Sept. 1 and lost in three straight sets. They also fell to top-20 Sierra and Sequoias.

"They are learning just the level of play and what it takes to compete at a high level," Pedroza said, "and that's what the last couple of weeks have been – trial and error and understanding the game in a different kind of way."