VOLLEYBALL: Year-end awards rain down on local athletes

Christopher's Ryan Tabilas bumps the ball for the Cougars during their match Friday against Branham.

If the Tri-County Athletic League gave out an annual Most-Enthusiastic award, a likely frontrunner for that distinction this year could have been Gilroy High volleyball player Connor Escobar.
A point for the Mustangs was, more often than not, followed up by an emphatically shouted exclamation from the senior outside hitter – enhanced with clenched fists raised at the waist. But, no such prize exists. Fear not – an actual TCAL acknowledgement suits the charismatic GHS captain just as well.
Escobar was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, leading a group of seven Mustangs who were tabbed for year-end honors.
“Our coaching staff is very proud of the accomplishments our players had this season,” GHS head coach Craig Martin said. “The fact the other coaches voted for them shows that their ability and effort were recognized by the other teams in the league.”
A two-year member of the GHS varsity squad, Escobar came into the 2012 season as the team’s top-scoring threat. Flowed into the starting rotation, Escobar led the Mustangs in kills (373) and digs (201), and also earned a spot on the TCAL first-team list.
“He loves the game,” Martin said of Escobar. “He brought a ton of enthusiasm and excitement. He always tried to stay positive and made everyone around him better.”
Johnny Lester, a senior who, along with Escobar, completed a nifty one-two attack for the Mustangs, also took home a first-team nod. Lester, another key returner this season, shined as an all-around asset, recording 187 kills, 175 digs, 115 assists and 50 aces.
“He was one of the top vote getters,” Martin said.
Middle blocker Lucas Gravell (team-high 52 blocks and 121 kills) was voted by league coaches to the second-team, while seniors Troy Charvet, Luke Otteson and Voltaire Valencia were tabbed as Honorable Mention recipients. Senior Greg Spellman (team-leading 597 assists) received the Sportsmanship Award.
“We started (Gravell) at outside and we figured out that we needed a middle. He fit that role perfectly for us,” Martin added.
Gilroy (20-14 overall) finished runner-up to San Benito in the TCAL Valley Division this season. All stats are from regular season games and do not include the Mustangs’ first-round playoff loss to Eastside College Prep.
A few miles across town at Christopher High, Justin Laveroni, Ryan Tabilas, Phil Castro and Matt Almeida highlight the Cougars’ postseason award winners for head coach Karie Gonzales, who was voted by her peers as the TCAL Coach of the Year.
“I was very surprised,” third-year CHS coach Gonzales said. “For the other coaches to consider me for this is an honor. We, as a team, worked hard to get where we are today.”
The Cougars finished third in the Valley Division, thanks in large part to Laveroni, who made first-team. The junior was the catalyst on offense, securing the team-lead in kills this season.
“He loves the sport,” Gonzales said. “He understands it and applies himself 100 percent. I’m excited for him.”
Tabilas, a senior and one of a select few who were members of the team since its inception in 2009-10, was named second-team.
“He is so agile on defense,” Gonzales said. “He is an awesome kid all around.”
Sophomore setter Castro made Honorable Mention and Almeida was the team’s Sportsmanship Award honoree.

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