Things haven’t exactly gone as smoothly as Jenae Long would have liked as her Mira Monte volleyball team prepares to host South in Southeast Yosemite League volleyball action Tuesday night.
On the heels of a 32-win season and state playoff berth, the Lions have taken a little longer to gel this year, forcing Long to do things a differently than she had planned this year.
The primary culprit? Leadership, or more specifically the lack of it at times, which has led to some inconsistent play during the preseason.
“We’ve had a few more issues than we had at the same time last year,” said Long, whose team finished a tough preseason with a 12-9-2 record. “It took me a little longer to find a starting lineup, find leadership … but I think after the Highland Tournament a couple weekends ago, our girls finally found their groove, so that was good.”
A key factor in Mira Monte's improved play was Long’s decision to have senior middle blocker Emily Hernandez start calling plays. The decision has enabled junior setter Samara Bolanos to focus more on what she does best, setting up her teammates.
After an up-and-down performance in the Clovis North Tournament, the Lions continued their dominance in Southeast Yosemite League play with victories over East and Highland last week, and Hernandez and Bolanos had their fingerprints all over it. It was Mira Monte’s 14th straight league victory and 19th in 20 games.
Bolanos demonstrated her skills Thursday when her 24 assists and 12 digs set the table for a 3-1 victory over the Scots.
“Last year, I had a senior setter who had a year of varsity under her belt and she kind of knew what my expectations were,” said Long, of Bolanos' older sister, Angelina. “I always tell my setters that they’re the quarterback of the team. They run the plays, they call the plays.
“This year is a little different. (Samara) was on JV last year, so she’s just getting used to the plays that we run and the offense we run. So she hasn’t quite gotten there yet … But I’m pretty stoked that she’s only a junior and I still have her for this year and next year.”
Hernandez was the primary beneficiary of Bolanos’ passes last week, compiling a season-high 26 kills against Highland. She also had five blocks. She had 12 kills and five blocks in a 3-1 win over East in the SEYL opener.
Mira Monte has also received some strong performances from its defense, led by seniors Samantha Perez and Esmerelda Vasquez and Erica Gomez. The three combined for 76 digs against Highland.
“What I like about this team is that they’re extremely humble,” Long said. “And they aren’t overlooking any opponent in our league this year. They know all the teams this year can beat anybody at anytime. It’s nice that the girls see that and don’t overlook any teams right now. They aren’t looking ahead to playoffs, they’re looking ahead to (Tuesday). They know that these teams really want to take us off the top, and that’s what they’re supposed to do, which I like.”
Tuesday will be the improved Rebels’ turn at trying to knock off the Lions.
“South has really improved their game,” Long said. “They have a very good coach over there. Toni (Alvarez) was a (very good) volleyball player herself. They’ve all had a couple of years with her and she’s turned that program around. I’m interested to see how we play against them. They’re a much stronger team this year than they’ve been the past couple years.”