The San Lorenzo Valley High girls' volleyball team won its season opener against Kirby Prep in non-league play on Sept. 2. (Christina Wise/Press Banner)

The San Lorenzo Valley High School girls’ volleyball team came out swinging in full effect for its season opener against Kirby Prep. 

The Cougars dominated the Griffins in three sets (25-11, 25-17, 25-16) in non-league play on Sept. 2. 

The season couldn’t have started any better for setters Katie Wise and Sophia Lettiere, who placed the ball in the sweet spot for hitters Lucy Lilienthal-Wynn, Madalynn Heign and Ari Ballard to score points. 

“I think we have a strong team this year,” Wise said. “We all have the same competitive mindset and are good at working together. We are known for being the underdog school, but we are already building more connections with one another.” 

Lillenthal-Wynn said she’s looking forward to what the team can do together. 

“Last year, we lacked determination and motivation, but we definitely gained that this year,” she said. “Our younger players bring a lot of great energy to the team, and they’re extremely motivated and have a huge love for the game. We work hard and want to play as hard as we can.”

SLV coach Connor Durham was pleased with the Cougars’ debut efforts on the court. 

“This team has tons of potential. With so much talent, it’s a blessing that everyone is willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” he said. “I keep hearing, ‘I’ll play wherever the team needs me,’ which is a great foundation for a successful season.”

SLV libero Anaya Sutcliffe, defensive specialist Mikayla Schultz, middle Thommi Hall and outside hitter Hannah Raymond—all fourth-year players—will combine forces to bring the heat to each match. 

“The fact that we all want to win will help us work together,” Sutcliffe said. “Our team is full of hustlers who give it all they have. This season, we’re going to work on building each other up and knowing we have everyone’s backs.”

Juniors Ali Reger (libero), Janie Reynolds (middle) and Trinity Harmon (defensive specialist) bring their JV experience to the team, backing up the seniors as they enter their final countdown on the court.

Standout sophomore Ari Ballard (opposite) has a left-handed serve that will bring tears to the eyes of opposing teams. 

Years of pitching in softball have honed Ballard’s placement of the ball, and the speed and efficacy of her ace serves will no doubt tip the scale of future matches in SLV’s favor.

Ballard was quick to point out the incredible camaraderie of the team.

“We have great chemistry,” she said. “We all love and care for each other on and off the court, which makes us strong as a team and as a community.” 

Ballard added that her experience as a surfer has helped to hone her volleyball skills. 

“I’ve learned to keep going even when it’s tough,” she said. “Sometimes the sets seem long, but you have to keep pushing for yourself and your team.”

Durham agreed with Ballard’s outlook. 

“I expect everyone to keep pushing one another in practice in order to fulfill their potential as a team while having fun along the way,” Durham said. “I am immensely grateful to be coaching this awesome squad of competitors.”

Last year’s Cougars team was packed with seasoned powerhouse veterans who played well. 

However, they couldn’t withstand the strength of other teams within the Santa Cruz County Athletic League, going winless in league play.

The Cougars (1-2, 0-3) started the season strong but fell to Harbor and Aptos in the opening week of SCCAL action. 

SLV finds itself gelling earlier in the season, possibly leading to a stronger showing against other standout teams including Mount Madonna, Santa Cruz and Soquel, the defending league champion.

“We need to trust in each other, and know that we’ll be there to dig in whenever it’s needed,” Wise said. 

Sutcliffe echoed Wise’s statement, and added another element to their success. 

“Communication is one of the many keys to the game,” Sutcliffe said. “This year, my goal is to be a lot louder on the court.”

The Cougars will play league games on Tuesdays and Thursdays until the SCCAL Tournament in October. Next up, they will play at Mount Madonna School on Sept. 21 at 7pm. 

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Christina Wise covers politics, education, art & culture, and housing issues. She has a degree in Communication from San Diego State University, and has lived in the San Lorenzo Valley since 1996. She's a community advocate and a mother of two.


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