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Pirates' focus squarely on playoffs
At the tail end of a 3-0 loss to eventual Central Valley Conference champions Fresno City College, Porterville College volleyball coach Dale Henderson stared over at the Rams’ bench and said, “Hopefully, that’ll be us next year.”
Fast forward about 10 months and Henderson stood watching his new 2009 Pirates squad in action at practice on Monday.
There’s little surprise as to why the third-year coach seemed downright giddy about this year’s prospects.
Henderson improved the Pirates’ win total from 2007 by 11 wins last year to 13-9 overall.
Though they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the postseason, Henderson says his girls are far from done.
“We know the game, we’re more fundamental than we were last year and, the biggest part, our defense is better,” Henderson said. “I expect better this year.”
While most conferences send their top three teams to the playoffs, finishing in the top three of the CVC, apparently, isn’t good enough.
“Not out of our conference,” Henderson said. “We got shafted last year. We have to finish first or second.”
And so it begins tonight in the season opener against Cuesta at home.
Fans in attendance might not see the high-flying CVC first-teamer Jessica Hernandez pound seven or eight kills per match, or the defensive stability of Gabby Pino and Sarah Jimenez, but, like Henderson said, they can expect better.
PC returns four sophomores including outside hitter and middle blocker Olga Velasquez, who was also named to the conference’s first team after finishing with the most blocks.
“Olga’s a lot smarter this year,” Henderson said. “She knows when to tip, when to put it in the hole, stuff like that. She knows how to score a point — not just going for the kill to look good.”
Setter Laura Lopez — a member of the 2008 CVC second team — also returns after averaging 9.4 assists per game, which ranked her sixth-best in the state as a freshman.
“I think she can get even more assists,” Henderson said. “She’s also a little smarter and she’s got some smarter players she can go to.”
Starting middle blocker Jennifer Gliddon joined the team late after spending her summer in Las Vegas and defensive specialist Nansi Reyes — who both figure to play prominent roles this season — round out the returners.
For his latest batch of recruitments, Henderson felt like he owned a gold mine in his own back yard.
Exeter sends two from its Division III Valley championship roster while Henderson headed back to his stomping grounds in Visalia for another.
Former Monarchs libero and The Recorder’s Volleyball Player of the Year Sabina Lopez steps in as “an immediate impact,” according to Henderson.
“She does everything,” Henderson said of the Pirates’ starting libero. “She serves, she passes, she digs. As little as she is, she could probably hit just as well as anyone on the team. We’re ecstatic she chose to come to PC.”
Henderson is equally thrilled in what he’s seen so far from one of the Monarchs’ top outside hitters in Evan Dillon.
“Evan’s my No. 1 outside hitter right now,” Henderson said. “She has defense, she has offense, she has the complete game. It was a blessing getting both those girls out of Exeter.”
The coach says opponents are in for a challenge against Dillon, a possible first- or second-team candidate in Henderson’s mind.
Another local recruit comes from Redwood High, where Henderson coached for eight years and led the Rangers to the school’s first Valley championship in 2006. On that team was 5-foot-10 outside hitter Katrina Goulbourne, whom Henderson spent several years recruiting.
“Last year, I went to one of her first senior games and she said, ‘Dale, it’s over — I’m going to Porterville,’” Henderson said. “And I said, ‘No problem, I won’t bug you. I’m just coming to watch.’”
Goulbourne, along with 5-foot-11 freshman Chyna Smith and 5-foot-9 sophomore Zori Hernandez (who redshirted last year), give the Pirates an imposing look along the front line they haven’t seen in awhile.
After a trip to San Luis Obispo for some scrimmages, Velasquez has seen enough of her new teammates to see what the team is capable of.
“Evan’s tough; she can hit and she can jump,” Velasquez said. “Sabina can play, Chyna can block. When Katrina’s on, she’s on. There’s something about all of them.”
Lopez quickly realized this wasn’t Exeter anymore, as she now plays alongside Dillon in the back row occasionally.
“It feels like I’m starting all over again,” Lopez said. “The tempo’s a step quicker and I need to work on my reactions. But I’m so excited. I think we have a lot of potential.”
Local recruits bolster postseason chances
2008 Record: 13-9 (8-6 CVC)
Top Returners: Soph. MB/OH Olga Velasquez, soph. setter Laura Lopez, soph. MB Jennifer Gliddon
Departures: OH Jessica Hernandez, DS Gabby Pino, DS Sarah Jimenez, MB Rachel Harrison
Key Newcomers: OH Evan Dillon, libero Sabina
Lopez, OH Katrina Gouldbourne
Breakout Player: Evan Dillon