The beef is back at Gilroy High. Brian “Beef” Calimpong, a longtime youth volleyball coach in the area, is in his first season back as the head coach of the Gilroy High girls volleyball team.
A 2003 GHS graduate, Calimpong returns with several goals in mind, none more important than growing the game locally and giving girls an opportunity to advance however far they desire, instilling in them a lifelong passion for the game in the process.
“We’re trying to do our part at Gilroy High to get them to love the sport for longer than just their time at Gilroy High,” said Calimpong, who was the program’s head coach in 2010.
Calimpong readily acknowledges the 2022 season is a rebuilding one. The Mustangs, who entered the week 1-3, graduated all but one of their starters off last year’s team. The ones who have taken over are still gaining the requisite experience that will eventually translate into wins on the court.
Calimpong has high hopes for Zaniah Haygood, who was a part-time starter last year. The junior outside hitter has improved in every facet of the game.
“She wants to be a six rotation player so I challenged her over the summer that her game had to round out,” Calimpong said. “She’s really working hard to get to that point and has the potential to be a first-team all-league player. She is strong, athletic, and still growing her IQ and how to adjust to certain situations and be more pliable with situations presented on the court. She hits at a high snap point and the potential is there. Her defensive prowess has really grown through club play.”
Another junior outside hitter, Ashley Sanchez, brings a certain calmness and consistency to the court that every team needs to succeed.
“Ashley goes about her business and doesn’t get too high or too low,” Calimpong said. “She just executes well. She is extremely coachable, a good athlete and someone we’ve come to rely on in how we align our pieces on the court. She’s been nothing but awesome this year and is learning and growing her voice.”
Junior middle/outside Natalia Sandoval made some nice contributions in the team’s match against Live Oak on Aug. 30, while sophomore setter Ava Hudnut—who didn’t play last year but did compete for a club in the off-season—has made noticeable improvement.
“Ava has really grown and helped steady us,” Calimpong said. “Her leadership and court awareness has really grown, and she’s been a nice surprise because she didn’t start out as a setter.”
Junior middle blocker MJ Porter is a true difference maker because of her versatile skill set.
“She’s kind of a five-tool player where we can put her at any position and she’ll be successful,” Calimpong said. “We need her at middle blocker right now, and although she’s very undersized for the position, she’s athletic, competitive and finds a way to be successful. I’m very proud of her for her ability to sacrifice and owning that position and really being a go-to and dynamic player for us (in a five-set loss to St. Francis of Watsonville on Sept. 8).”
Calimpong was encouraged by the team’s match against St. Francis, noting GHS dropped the first two sets before winning Games 3 and 4 and then ultimately losing the fifth set.
“The team hasn’t quite clicked yet, but I saw some promising things that we’ll be able to grow from,” he said.
Calimpong wants to build the numbers of the program so it can field a freshmen team at some point, and he’s already hit one of his goals by hosting a tournament, the Garlic City Classic, on Sept. 10. He knows rebuilding a program takes time and effort, and that’s why he’s going to enlist the help of parents and others in the local volleyball community.
As for this season, Calimpong is happy with how things are progressing.
“The girls have done a phenomenal job and everything we’ve asked of them,” he said. “They just have to stay steadfast and at the end of the year, I think we’ll be very pleased with where we’ll be. I’m nothing but encouraged.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]