Last season the Wilcox varsity volleyball team won its first ever league championship by going an impressive 11-1. In the playoffs, the Chargers players proved they could play with the best teams in CCS. While they lost their semifinal match to eventual CCS Champion Branham, they were in every set and were even in position to win both the first and third sets until losing late leads.
Such an impressive showing in the 2022 CCS playoffs earned the Chargers an at-large bid to the NorCal State playoffs, where Wilcox lost another tight contest against Harbor.
So, heading into this season with a “ship” (championship), how would it then also be accurate to say the team has a chip on its shoulders?
With 10 seniors graduating from last year’s team, including incredibly strong hitters Sophie Ehret and Clare Oudard, this year’s Wilcox team is much younger. Outside pundits will suggest that there is little chance for the Chargers to even come close to matching last season’s success. However, if you talk with this year’s captains in Maria Perez-Smith and Neda Salehi, the drive to win this season is still very much apparent despite the younger roster.
“The team as a whole just has to work together and put as much effort into it as we can,” noted Perez-Smith. “I think we can [still win a lot of games] if we really put in the work, time and effort. Each and every one of us has to step up a little bit though.”
One aspect that Head Coach April Lujan’s teams never seem to lack is that high-level work ethic.
“Coach has this saying that goes ‘their workout is our warmup,’” chimed Salehi on being able to out-hustle the opponents. “We’ve learned to become a lot scrappier, work hard on defense, dive for every ball, hustle. We have to put in that hard work, it’s really important, especially if you don’t have the same physical abilities as the other team.”
Despite graduating such a strong class of seniors last year, coach Lujan is still very impressed by what she has seen early on in practices.
“I have five returners and they have come back and they want to continue to win, you can tell by their demeanor at practice,” said Lujan. “They are focused and they are driven. I can see that they are trying to bring up the new girls to be on the same page as them when it comes to the attitude of ‘we want to try to beat every team’.”
“Right now, I’m seeing the girls working hard and they are playing at a level that I wasn’t anticipating,” continued Lujan. “And I think part of that is that I have two freshmen with club experience, and they are doing really well, Emma [Gaba] and Sienna [Spencer]. And the girls as a whole understand that they are here to play volleyball. I am very open and transparent with them about playing time. I’ll tell them if they want to play, they have to outplay this girl, you have to be more consistent than this girl, that way it’s clear I don’t play favorites. I’m looking at pure volleyball skill, if you do the job, you’re gonna get the job.”
Wilcox players will get their first chance in real games to prove their skills worthy of playing time when the Chargers open the season on Aug. 24 at Monta Vista.