Estancia girls’ volleyball sweeps Rancho Alamitos to stay unbeaten
Three weeks into the program’s first full season in two years, the Estancia High School girls’ volleyball team had not dropped a set in their opening five matches.
The upperclassman-heavy team was poised to keep that streak alive.
Behind a total of 17 service aces and exceptional attacking, Estancia earned its sixth victory in a row to begin the season with a 25-18, 25-20, 25-20 sweep at Rancho Alamitos in a nonleague match on Thursday.
Estancia senior outside hitter Ruby Uchytil was everywhere on the court, helping on both offense and defense, though her biggest contributions came from behind the service line. The Eagles (6-0) jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the first set thanks to three consecutive aces by Uchytil.
“I’m a little bit nervous every time [I serve], but we’ve been practicing a lot,” Uchytil said. “Our coach has been focusing on serving every practice for a long time, so I just think about practice.”
Uchytil added two more aces during the match, bumping her total up to five aces along with nine kills and eight digs. It was evident that Uchytil was on the same page with junior setter Makena Ray.
“We work on setting every practice, and we have built that setting connection, but it all starts with the pass,” Ray said. “This team is really fun and totally energetic since everyone is super close, so I am excited to keep playing with the girls.”
As the Vaqueros (2-3) found their rhythm, Ray made sure that her team did not give up the lead by feeding the ball out to her pin hitters. She exemplified the setter position perfectly by being the bridge between the defense and the offense. Ray had 25 assists, two kills and two digs.
The Eagles were unable to get off to a quick start in the second set. Rancho Alamitos senior middle blocker Bethany Ma’ae helped her team by earning points off of kills and taking points away from the Eagles through defense.
Ray responded by dumping the ball over on the second contact in an empty pocket, giving the Eagles much-needed points. It was a welcome sight for Ray’s teammates to see her leading the team after coming back from an ankle injury.
“We’re excited to have her back on the court,” Uchytil said of Ray.
Despite Estancia’s inconsistent serve receiving in the second set, Ray was able to chase down and keep balls in play for either Uchytil or junior outside hitter Joanna Santosuosso to put away.
“We got some girls who can bang the ball, and it’s just going to all come down to how much better we can get in serve receive and even passing as the season progresses,” Estancia coach Alejandro De Mendoza said. “We all want passing to get better, but I think we have great effort on defense.”
Rancho Alamitos built off their showing in the second set in the third set, as it led 6-1 with hopes to extend the match. Ma’ae contributed to almost every point.
“You got to give a lot of credit to Rancho for coming back from that first set and being really competitive,” De Mendoza said. “We talked a lot during the timeouts about what we need to do better in serve receive and tried our best to execute.”
Following her own kill to stop the Rancho Alamitos run, Santosuosso brought Estancia right back into the lead with her potent serving. Uchytil’s swings caused the Vaqueros to play out of system, which led to easy return balls that allowed the Eagles ample time to set up their plays. Senior outside hitter Sydney Bilderback contributed with key cross-court kills.
Estancia got over some adversity and secured the sweep.
Santosuosso finished with five kills, four aces and four digs. Bilderback had eight kills, three digs and two aces. Senior libero Lily Shandalove added 15 digs, one assist and one kill.
Even though De Mendoza’s team is still undefeated, he recognized that there is always room for development heading into the meat of their schedule.
“It’s the beginning of the year, and I don’t expect us to be the sharpest and our best,” De Mendoza said. “I just want a really good effort and want to make sure that we’re improving every set and every play. They did a really good job of that. My focus with this group is to peak at the right time, and we have high aspirations for this team.”
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