Christopher High's Grace Wilson will be a solid player at the middle position for the Cougars girls volleyball team, which is set to compete in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa East Division in the fall. (Jonathan Natividad/Gilroy Dispatch)

Christopher High girls’ volleyball team missed out on the Central Coast Section playoffs by the narrowest of margins in 2022. 

This year’s pride of Cougars features several of those returnees along with some new faces who are focused on winning the close matches, while also hoping to advance to the postseason.

A challenging preseason schedule for them has resulted in a 4-6 overall record but testing themselves against big hitters such as Sobrato High in a recent 5-set loss will pay off later. 

“I want to continue to develop our players’ skills,” Christopher coach Marcus Torres said. “We want to make CCS, as well. It’s gonna be a tough competition in league.”

Three of the six defeats this season went the distance in five or three sets, and the Cougars were still competitive in sweeping losses to Cupertino and Palo Alto high schools. 

The progress is visible and was illustrated in Christopher’s sweep of a solid Aptos High team on Monday night.

Christopher assistant coach Sierra Gaeta, who was head coach in 2022, said this year’s group have practiced and played together a lot for the past two seasons. Senior setter Maddie Pierson and libero Nathalia Javier are both all-around players who should make an impact. 

“They are jelling with everyone and we are building and rebuilding as a unit,” Gaeta said. “The league is strong overall but we want to go out with a bang and win a banner this season.”

Christopher and Hill High both tied for second with a 6-4 record in the Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa East Division behind co-champions Silver Creek and Santa Teresa high schools, which finished with 7-3 records in league play. 

Silver Creek this season was promoted into the Santa Teresa West Division, but Santa Teresa (3-2) and Hill (9-4)—which are off to good starts—are favorites along with the Cougars to win the league title.

Their non-league battle against Sobrato on Sept. 1 and the victory at Aptos illustrate the Cougars’ development and potential. 

In both contests, the athletic defense and passing were solid. Pierson’s setting in a 6-1 alignment produced kills from multiple places on the floor.

The hard-hitting outside attack includes Hannah McGhie and sophomore Finley Corona. The middle is solid with Grace Wilson and freshman Maddie Ridgway. Pierson watches the opposing block to get mismatches in the middle. 

Faith Zermano delivers from the right side and depth comes from Virginia Hatch, Adyson Luna, Jenny Lee and Maddy Cortinas. It all starts with the defense, spearheaded by Javier, complemented by the others in the back row or up front on the block.

“Our defense is needed to get the ball up for the offense,” Javier said. “It’s really amazing to see it when we click and our hitters come through on the other end.”

Defense comes from more than just a libero or Pierson, who can dig shots to Javier so she can bump set the offense. 

Against Sobrato, Corona dove to save a ball from hitting the floor and skidded into the standard. Following a short break, she was back on the court, illustrating the gritty tough-minded nature of this Cougar squad. 

Christopher displayed versatility against Aptos as it took control in the first set and it was Wilson along with Zermano on top of the stat chart, each with four kills and two block assists.

Corona was on fire in the second set with five kills of different varieties, including going line and cross and also with a roll shot. Defensively, Ridgway was part of a big wall in the middle. In the third set, McGhie pounded down five kills.

When they kept the Bulldogs out of system, the Cougars were rocking. 

“We got our butts handed to us in that second set,” Sobrato coach Daniel Clifton said. 

When the fourth set was tied at 21-all and the Cougars needed to take it to extend the night to a fifth set, Corona came through with two crucial kills. 

The Bulldogs had a bit too much firepower overall but the contest was even for most of the fifth set and could have gone either way.

In the end, Sobrato won in five sets (25-22, 14-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-10), yet the Cougars fought tenaciously throughout the match. 

“Our defense was phenomenal,” Pierson said. “Our communication was good. We dug deep. It was fun keeping up with them. I’m so excited for the season. My goal is to keep our heads up and make sure we stay disciplined. All the girls get along well and it’s all positive.”

Over on the coast, the Cougars were sharp all night long and swept host Aptos (25-19, 25-15, 25-22) in non-league play. 

Christopher was cohesive on the court and in the stands, where the Cougar faithful outnumbered the home fans.

“We did a really good job coming back from recent losses,” Javier said. “We had great communication as a team. It takes time to jell and we are learning. I’m really excited to see how the season will go. This game shows our potential. Most of our team are seniors. We want to have the best season possible.”

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