Tue09022014

Sports

Lancers hope to benefit from tough schedule


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Libero Hannah Aguirre is one of eight seniors on the St. Francis High volleyball team.

St. Francis High volleyball coach Leahi Hall has no complaints about playing in the West Catholic Athletic League, which is once again brimming with top-notch teams. She and her players welcome the challenge.

“The WCAL is a difficult league, but we’re so glad to be part of it,” she said. “You have to earn everything, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Hall added that facing the likes of Mitty, Valley Christian and Sacred Heart Cathedral – WCAL teams ranked among the top 10 in the state – only makes her Lancers stronger. St. Francis is likely to meet at least one of these squads in next week’s WCAL playoffs.

“Anytime we play big-time matches, it’s a great test for the team,” the coach said when asked about the league tournament, scheduled Tuesday through Nov. 7. “We’ll hope to play our best to have a chance to play the best teams.”

As far as seeding for the tourney, the Lancers figure to land somewhere in the middle. They are fourth in the league standings at 3-2 after sweeping Notre Dame-Belmont Thursday.

St. Francis sports a 20-11 overall record that includes matches in three tough tournaments.

“It’s a blessing to play so many different types of teams,” Hall said, “and we hope it will benefit us when it comes to CCS (playoffs).”

While the coach conceded that the Lancers would like to win the Central Coast Section Division II championship – along with WCAL and Northern California crowns – they aren’t fixated on first-place finishes.

“We’re focused on getting better,” Hall said. “If we stay committed to progress and having the right mindset, good things will come our way.”

The coach is pleased with St. Francis’ progress thus far – on and off the court. She noted that the 15 players have formed a strong bond.

“They’re really focused on unity,” Hall said. “They’re some of the nicest and most supportive players you could ask for, and they do such a good job of getting their teammates going.”

The Lancers’ eight seniors set the tone, with Hall describing them as “a big part of the team.” Three of them have already committed to colleges – libero Hannah Aguirre (UC Berkeley) and outside hitters Alex Espinosa (Hofstra University) and Taylor Poncetta (University of the Pacific).

The 5-foot-10 Poncetta, who will play sand volleyball at UOP, is among the Lancers’ leaders in kills. She only recently teamed on the outside with Espinosa, who missed the first half of the season with an injury.

“We’re lucky to have her return to the court,” Hall said of the 5-10 Espinosa. “Anytime you have someone with the type of arm she has – on serve or attack – and that competitiveness, it helps push the girls to the next level.”

Junior outside hitter Jennifer Kellogg, a 6-footer out of Egan Junior High, is part of what the coach called “a strong attacking unit.”

Aguirre and defensive specialists Tatiana San Juan and Isabel Knox – a senior and junior, respectively – bolster the back row.

“One of the marks of St. Francis teams for the past decade is the plethora of great defenders,” Hall said. “It’s the same this year with Hannah, Tatiania and Isabel – we’re lucky to have players like that.”

A few younger players have contributed to the Lancers’ success as well. Jenna Adams “has great ball control,” according to the coach, and fellow sophomore outside hitter Carly Deale notched a team-high nine kills in Thursday’s road win. Freshmen Amanda Serex (middle blocker) and Brigitte Canty (outside hitter) have made a smooth transition to the high school game.

“I’m sure it was tough for them at the start of the season,” Hall said of her freshmen. “But in the last month, you can’t tell who’s a freshman and who isn’t on this team. We don’t look at each other with certain titles – it’s all part of the journey.”

The journey continues today as the Lancers are slated to host Sacred Heart Cathedral at 6:30 p.m.

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