Despite graduating nine seniors off last year’s team, the Sobrato High girls volleyball squad isn’t ramping down expectations. The Bulldogs fully expect to be in contention to defend the Blossom Valley League Santa Teresa Division championship they won in the Covid spring season.
That’s because they return several players who were key reserves last season and are ready to have breakout seasons. The top returner is sophomore outside hitter Kaylee Clayton, who in addition to delivering thunderous kills also has expanded her skills over the off-season.
“Last year as a freshman Kaylee blew everyone away including myself with her skills and energy she brought to the team,” Bulldogs coach Daniel Clifton said. “Every year you see players return and take their game to the next level, but it seems like she skipped a couple of levels and went to the third or fourth levels.”
Clifton said even if a set is off the net, Clayton is capable of delivering a swing that produces a point. Her passing has also improved to the point where she’s capable of playing all the way around and excel in the back row. Clifton is also excited about the play of junior middle blocker Kayla Talbot, who was third on the depth chart last season because the team had two outstanding seniors manning the position.
“Kayla was really good last year and worked really hard in the off-season to up her game,” Clifton said. “She’s been our block leader in our two scrimmages and just getting blocks left and right.”
Sophomore Brianna Bouton also has shown a lot of potential in the middle. Jasmine Mapalad, a senior opposite, provides the team with additional firepower and tends to finish most matches with a high hitting percentage. Haley Haar, a senior outside hitter, was another player who was behind two outstanding senior starters in the spring season but is now ready to emerge as one of the team’s best weapons. Clifton is proud of Haar for improving on her weaknesses.
“One thing Haley needed to work on was her passing, and now her serve-receive has come together,” he said. “She has become solid in the back row where in the past it was a flaw and shortcoming in her game.”
Entering the week, Clifton said he’s leaning toward junior Briana Retzer at libero, though junior Jodi Fields has also been excellent defensively and will receive plenty of playing time.
“Briana is completely controlling the back row as far as communication goes, and is just a rock star there,” Clifton said. “Jodi is also super good in the back row but is just a little quieter and not quite as assertive vocally which is what you really need out of the libero. But she can play libero and is also a super defensive specialist.”
Teresa Brozic, a senior setter, has made a notable impression on Clifton for her ball control skills.
“Out of all the setters that have come through here in the last five years, she has the best hands and has done it with pretty much no coaching as far as setting goes,” Clifton said. “The way she sets the ball, it looks like how a college level setter does it. The biggest thing is her confidence on the court. Things have clicked for her and she controls the court and is telling players where to go, which is something I’ve never seen before. She’s becoming the quarterback on the team, which is what a setter is in volleyball.”