Gilroy High girls volleyball team are off to a hot start this season in the Blossom Valley Athletic League West Valley Division with a 3-1 record in league play. (Imedla Natividad/special to the Gilroy Dispatch)

It was an unlikely scenario for the Gilroy High girls volleyball team to find some early success this year after a 2022 season that was full of challenges and struggles along the way.  

But Mustangs head coach Sonya Beck along with a motivated and focused roster are rolling and currently the hottest team in South County, sitting at the top of the Blossom Valley Athletic League West Valley Division standings with a 3-1 record in league play.

“Our strength is our teamwork,” Gilroy senior setter Ava Hudnut said. “We are working together well. We are friends on and off the court. We have strong passers and strong hitters, and our coach is great.”

The Mustangs own a 5-7 overall record which includes league victories over Oak Grove, Gunderson and Overfelt high schools. 

In the teams’ West Valley Division opener, Gilroy won the first two sets at Oak Grove but then lost the following two to force a fifth and deciding set.

The Mustangs regrouped for a dominant 15-8 win in the fifth set that was led by Zaniah Haygood with 16 kills. 

Gilroy racked up 23 aces with freshmen Ariadna Urias and Sienna Schwinges leading the count with five each.

“About this team, they know their skills and we’re just tweaking them a little bit,” Beck said. “Zenaya’s strength is her passion. And she has always been a really good hitter. She’s getting smarter on where to place the ball.”

Gilroy pounded Gunderson in three sets (25-16, 25-18, 25-8) and once again was brilliant from the serving line with an amazing 29 aces. Urias led the parade with 13 aces.

Against Overfelt, the Mustangs dropped the first set but hit the reset button and rolled the Royals in four (20-25, 25-20, 25-10, 25-15) en route to victory. 

Dominant serving was again the meal ticket. Solid passing enabled Hudnut to find her hitters in good positions. Haygood led with 12 kills and the Mustangs tallied 20 aces, with Schwinges drilling seven of those.

“We had really good serves,” Hudnut said. “After the first set, we got better on our passes and everything kinda clicked.”

Gilroy had been in the Pacific Coast Athletic League through the 2021 season before the school moved to the Blossom Valley Athletic League last year. 

But, they were overmatched in the Santa Teresa East Division and finished with an 0-10 record in league play in 2022.

“It’s a complete turnaround,” Hudnut said. “Last year was really tough. We felt out of place. This feels a lot better.”

In 2023, the matches are more competitive and the Mustangs will fight with San Jose and Mt. Pleasant for the league title. Both are 2-0 in league play and are on the Mustangs’ schedule this week.

Beck’s approach includes learning and enjoying the sport, improving skills, and appreciating the journey.

“I’m letting them enjoy the sport,” she said. “Communication is a big deal. We try to keep it positive. If they make mistakes, I want them to grow from the mistakes.”

Beck uses Bella Rodrigo as a second setter along with Hudnut in a modified 6-2 lineup, deploying it for two of six rotations. Bella Gutierrez and Naretzie Leon Zarate lead the defense, with contributions from Anna Nguyen and Lana Pok. 

The middle is solid with Mary Jane Porter and Lauren Pulford. Haygood and Schwinges lead the outside attack, along with Urias and Sarah Porter on the right side.

“We have a lot of club players this year,” Hudnut said. “And that aggressiveness helps. Our team goals are communication. A big goal is to take the league. It was definitely an idea that we had at the start of the year. We can do this.”

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