Optimism runs in Daniel Clifton’s blood. How else to explain the fact that the Sobrato High girls volleyball coach went on record saying this year’s team has what it takes to win a Central Coast Section playoff championship. Bold words in regards to a program that has never been a perennial postseason participant, let alone one that has won a section championship.
But Clifton said he sees something perhaps others on the outside might not see—the development of several players during the club season that has him believing a quantum leap is all but imminent.
“If ever I were to see a championship team, I think this team has what it takes to go all the way to CCS and bring home another banner for this gym,” said Clifton, whose team went 2-2 in the Watsonville Tournament last Saturday. “We’re hoping to start bringing home some trophies (at Watsonville) and keep going from there.”
The Bulldogs return the majority of the starters off last year’s team, including junior libero Annette Angeles and junior outside hitter Dina Mercier, who will be counted upon to finish off and terminate points. When Mercier can be in rhythm with her setters, Clifton said she is a force to be reckoned with.
“It’s crazy to see how much work she put in to get her vertical up,” Clifton said. “Even against Christopher (a three-set loss on Sept. 3), she was hammering the ball.”
Angeles provides a steady presence in the back row, and possesses strong passing skills that will help the team’s serve-receive. A team’s ability to serve-receive goes a long way in determining a team’s success or lack of it. Clifton loves Angeles’ no-fear attitude.
“She’s not afraid of anything,” he said. “She’s a rock back there for us. It’s awesome to see her sprawl back and forth across the gym, pretty much diving for anything to make sure the ball doesn’t touch the floor.”
Any team that hopes to win a CCS title must be strong defensively, and Sobrato has a stalwart in that regard in senior Lauren Arnott, who does whatever is asked of her and literally goes all out on the court.
“She’s one of the craziest players I’ve ever seen when it comes to laying her body on the court in an instant,” Clifton said. “There is no sense of giving up in that girl. Until the ball touches the ground, there is still a chance for her to get there.”
The Bulldogs will run a 6-2 offense, taking advantage of two talented setters in junior Hailey Keith and senior Lizzie Santos, who can be counted upon for her consistent play. Both players have their strengths and individual skill sets that will serve the team well. Keith can set from the front or back row and also possesses the ability to terminate points.
“Hailey has quite a cannon attached to that shoulder and likes to let that loose every once in a while,” Clifton said.
It’s players like Maria Brozic, a junior middle blocker, who give Clifton plenty of optimism. Brozic is one of the handful of players who made dramatic improvement during the last club season. Brozic, who plays for the Morgan Hill Volleyball Club—which Clifton is also a part of—led her club team in blocks.
“Club is where you really learn a lot quickly and the skill level jumps a crazy amount in a short time,” Clifton said. “During the club season, Maria was an absolute wall for us. It’s awesome to see how much work all these girls put in the off-season, and you can tell they all have that championship mentality. Sometimes you’re just waiting for a player’s body to grow, mature and match their skill set. Once it does, so much more is possible.”
Clifton added that Brozic has advanced her game by being able to read the setter and make that educated guess as to where to set up the block. Natalia Medina, a senior opposite, has helped fortify Sobrato’s defense blocking-wise, and like Brozic is maturing with her physical skills.
“At times Natalia has been a blocking machine,” Clifton said. “She can pretty much put a nice roof on everyone.”