After surviving an arduous nonleague schedule, coach Gary Carroll said his Homestead High volleyball team – featuring four girls from Los Altos – welcomed the start of SCVAL De Anza Division play.
“I think we’re battle-tested and ready for league,” he said prior to Thursday’s opener at Palo Alto.
Although the division is filled with formidable foes, Carroll can’t imagine it being more daunting than the slate of teams the Mustangs faced in recent weeks. Twelve of their 13 opponents won at least 20 matches last season and two claimed state championships. Homestead tangled with four teams from the vaunted West Catholic Athletic League and ventured to Las Vegas for one of the most competitive tournaments on the West Coast.
Carroll said his team was “tired and beat up” after three weeks of what he described as “the toughest schedule in Northern California.” The Mustangs kept their heads above water, however, posting a 7-6 record with a win over WCAL power Presentation, a 4-3 mark in the desert at the Durango Tournament and victories over Harker and San Benito.
“I hope it bodes well for us,” Carroll said.
So far, it has. Homestead won its league opener in five games, the team’s first victory at Palo Alto in 14 years. The Mustangs and Vikings shared the division title last season.
The coach said his daughter Casey Carroll “blew it up” Thursday night. The senior from Los Altos recorded 22 kills (on 41 swings), 25 digs and four blocks. The team’s other outside hitter, fellow senior Morgan Robinson, added 18 kills.
Carroll, Robinson and juniors Katie Barker (of Los Altos) and Connor Bunka make up a fearsome foursome of hitters. Robinson has already surpassed 100 kills, the 6-foot-1 Casey is closing in on the century mark – despite missing a few matches with a sprained ankle – while Bunka and Barker are in the 50-kill range.
“I don’t think anyone (in the league) can deal with that four-prong attack,” coach Carroll said. “Throw in Maria and Breanna, and we’re tough to beat.”
That would be junior setter Maria Balus, a transfer from Monta Vista, and sophomore middle blocker Breanna Rachel. Each has more than 20 kills.
Homestead can get it done on defense as well. Senior libero Allison Inanoria was voted team MVP last year and the Mustangs should have another big-time back row player when junior defensive specialist Olivia Poulos returns from a leg injury that has sidelined her since their third match.
“We need her,” coach Carroll said of Los Altos resident Poulos, whom he expects back as early as next week. “Not only for her defense, but for her quiet leadership skills.”
Homestead doesn’t seem to lack for leaders, though. The team has three captains: Inanoria, Robinson and Casey. The coach called Casey – a four-year varsity player – “the all-around leader,” adding that her will to win often sets the tone for the Mustangs.
“She has that competitive fire,” coach Carroll said of his daughter, bound for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on a scholarship. “She’s the best competitor in the league, as far as pure desire to win.”
Homestead is scheduled to visit Monta Vista 6:45 p.m. Thursday.
2013 girls volleyball: Homestead High School - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier