Senior experience is key to Gregori volleyball team's MMC dominance

bvanderbeek@modbee.comOctober 3, 2013 

Eventually, Gregori High will lose another Modesto Metro Conference volleyball game.

Enochs High hopes it's this year, even after the Jaguars won their 25th straight league game Thursday night, in straight sets, in the Eagles' gym.

The scores were 25-17, 25-6, and 25-22, and Enochs is taking some consolation in the third set score, especially coming after such a whitewash second set.

But Gregori rolls along, improving to 20-2 this season, 5-0 in the MMC and 28-1 all-time in league play since fielding a varsity squad for the first time in 2011, sans seniors.

The constant during this three-year Jaguar domination has been an untouchable and unflappable group of 10 current seniors, six of whom just happen to be 6-feet or taller.

"Experience speaks volumes in any sport, any team," said Gregori coach David Winfrey, who took over the squad just before the season started. "When you have 10 seniors it's a competitive advantage. Enochs is young and you can see they're developing, and they're going to be very good in the future."

The Eagles (11-10, 4-1) do have as much scoreboard history against the Jags as anybody in the MMC. That lone Gregori loss came in straight sets at Enochs on Sept. 28, 2011.

"We don't really think about having lost here (as sophomores,) but we do come in knowing that this team is really good, so we come in thinking that we have to play hard and play our game," said one of those seniors, outside hitter Emilee Vandyke, who handed out 31 assists. "Anyone can win on any day, so we have to go into every game thinking that the other team is just as good as us. We still have to play our hardest to win."

That's the attitude making Gregori so dominant in league play. While the Jags clearly are the class of the league, with Enochs a solid second best, the rest of the MMC simply doesn't match up. So Gregori has to know it's better than the rest of the league, making the challenge to continue to play as if there's something to prove.

"The inspiration cames from the hearts of the girls," Winfrey said. "They are a fiery group of young ladies that don't take losing well. They're competitve and they want to win, and are going to win against all odds.

"So the inspiration is internal and they come into every game focused on winning, on what's going to happen next so we know this is a stepping stone and we have to perform well here to prepare for what's next. The girls take every match serious because they know it's a stepping stone to the next place. They have a goal, which makes it easy to motivate them."

Gregori has been coming at foes in waves with its height and ability. Vandyke and Maycie LaBass (eight kills) are as strong on the outside as any tandem in the area, with Michala Wyrch and junior Alexis Rios not far behind.

The group rarely missed a kill opportunity in the first game, and was nearly flawless in the second, as Enochs recorded four of its six points on service errors. The Eagles looked beaten and even a bit intimidated in that second set, and were on the verge of collapse, falling behind 13-7 in the third.

Enochs found its rhythm to tie the set 13-13 and again at 19-19 before the Jags again pulled away, winning the game fittingly enough on a clean LaBass crosscourt kill.

"I was very pleased with that (third game)," said Eagles coach Cathi Varni. "We finally got fired up, but it took three games. They got down on themselves in that second game, and that's what a young team does."

There is a return match. Enochs is scheduled to play at Gregori on Oct. 29, in the second-to-last game before both teams enter the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

"I'd like to think they can beat Gregori, but I don't know that they believe it just yet," Varni said. "That third game should give them some encouragement."

Varni wasn't the only person impressed with the third-game rally.

"We didn't let down in the third," Vandyke said. "But we know we can play better than that. We've set some very high expectations for ourself, so we have to push through games like that."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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