The Sobrato High girls volleyball team knew it was going to be a huge challenge to compete in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division this season.
The Bulldogs had spent the last several years in the BVAL’s middle B division, but were promoted to the A league this season after winning three consecutive Santa Teresa Division titles. Sobrato showed it belonged, going 4-6 in the Mount Hamilton to finish in a tie for third place behind section powers Branham and Leigh.
As one of the top four teams from the Mount Hamilton, Sobrato earned an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs, where it lost a five-setter to San Mateo in a Division II opener on Oct. 29. The Bulldogs’ outstanding junior outside hitter, Kaylee Clayton, said the team benefited in a lot of ways playing in the BVAL’s top division this year.
“We definitely had our ups and downs, but I felt like this year’s team was unified and genuinely got along so well that it kept us together as the season went along,” she said. “We thought we would have a better record, but we learned so much this season and the change is what we needed. I think it was a great experience for all of us and we’re looking forward to being in the A league next year.”
Clayton ranked in the top three on the team in every single statistical category, a testament to her versatile skill set. She ranked first on the team in kills, digs and service aces. Out of those three categories, Clayton said she took pride in her serving because of the number of aces she accumulated and her accurate 89.1% serve percentage.
“I’m most proud of my aces this year just because during my club season last year, I was really going through ups and downs with my serve,” she said. “There would be months where my serve would be so on and other months where I struggled with it. So this year it meant a lot to get my serve in a regular cycle and be confident with it every time it would go in.”
Clayton is a premier outside hitter in that she doesn’t get subbed out once her position spot gets rotated to the back row. In today’s game—especially at the college and pro level—most front row players do not play the back row because of increased specialization.
“Playing all around is hard, especially for my coach when I wasn’t getting my serves over,” she said. “It was definitely something I knew I needed to fix, so tuning it in this year and the aces meant a lot for me and my game.”
Clayton developed a solid mental approach to her serving, visualizing her movement and giving herself cues to repeat textbook form over and over again. While Clayton’s focus for the high school season was improving her serve, in the last club season with Mountain View Volleyball Club she worked on her hitting.
“In club, I worked on refining all my tools in attacking,” she said. “Just getting a lot smarter, where I’m placing the ball, hitting around bigger blocks and making my eyes work to see the whole court.”
Clayton said her talented teammates made the season an enjoyable one, noting the team ran a faster offense in large part because of setters Jordan Bouton and Hannah Pieters, who combined for nearly 700 assists this season.
“Jordan really stepped up and improved a lot as the year went along,” Clayton said. “She is so receptive to feedback and so positive on the court, and I love playing with her because of her attitude and will to win. She’s also athletically gifted, takes feedback and uses it in an instant, which I really admire about her.”
Jordan’s older sister, Brianna, like Clayton is a junior outside hitter who plays all the way around.
“Brianna and Jordan have amazing chemistry,” Clayton said. “When Brianna is in the back row, she usually is able to get a kill and she also has a very good serve.”
Juliana Tindall and Sophia Buschini ranked 1-2 on the team in blocks.
“Jules and Sophia are incredible,” Clayton said. “Sophia’s timing is amazing, and Jules is very tall, gets up and is good at pressing up and diving into the seams. As a passer in the back row, I’m so thankful for that because I don’t have to worry about the seams when they’re up blocking.”
Senior libero Briana Retzer was one of the defensive catalysts and junior Evann Durling ranked third on the team in kills. Clayton also praised seniors Taylor Calupad and Nala Patrick for their constant positivity and energy cheering on the team.
“Taylor and Nala are such a huge part of this team,” she said. “Anyone at our games can tell they are our two energizers and always putting themselves out there by yelling and helping us out on the court. I really appreciate the effort they give to get us going.”
Clayton said the highlight of the season was the team’s 29-27, 25-19 win over Santa Teresa in the Watsonville Tournament in the last weekend of August.
“I think it was not only my best game, but our best game as a team because we really rose to the occasion,” she said. “Nothing was dropping and that game was so much fun because we were all hyped up and you remember that game because the acoustics in the gym made everything loud. Your ears were ringing at times and all the screaming made for a great atmosphere.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]