Season Preview: Experienced core, impressive newcomers to fuel 2019 volleyball season

Season Preview: Experienced core, impressive newcomers to fuel 2019 volleyball season

The 2019 West Hills College women's volleyball season could be a special one to remember thanks to a solid group of returning veterans and talented newcomers that have joined the program. Long-time head coach Jeff Wanderer will get his first look at the Falcons when they officially open the season on Friday (Aug. 30) at Modesto Junior College. West Hills faces the host Pirates at 1 p.m. and will also take on Cosumnes River College shortly after at 3 p.m.

Wanderer, now in his 22nd year leading the Falcons, is eager to see his 2019 squad hit the court.

"This year will be an exciting year for West Hills volleyball," he said. "With the experience of the returning group and the addition of a talented and energetic freshmen group, each practice has been an outstanding learning environment. The veterans have been amazing big sisters to the freshmen and everyone has been really soaking up the volleyball." 

Five Falcons, including a trio of All-Central Valley Conference selections, return from a 2018 team that compiled a 10-13 overall record and finished seventh in the CVC at 8-10. Wanderer will lean heavily on first-team All-CVC honoree Andrea Lopez (Monache HS/Porterville) at outside hitter, while second-team selection Mia Bouttavong (McLane HS/Fresno) and honorable mention pick Magali Renteria (Coalinga HS/Huron) should both help anchor the middle.

Wanderer was quick to mention the tremendous work put in during the off-season by setter Isabella Galang (Strathmore HS/Porterville) and opposite Sydney Ruth (Coalinga HS/Coalinga). He expects both to make a big impact this year.

Top newcomers to watch include freshmen Madisyn Baxter (Monache HS/Porterville), Felicia Ruguian (Sam Joaquin Memorial HS/Lemoore), Fallon Alviso (Porterville HS/Porterville), and Valeria Caro (Avenal HS/Avenal).

"Madisyn Baxter is a standout opposite hitter and is expected to be a major contributor on many levels and in many facets of the game for us," said Wanderer. "Felicia Ruguian will be the team's libero and has really made significant additions to her game. Fallon Alviso, an outside hitter, is expected to make huge contributions to the 2019 campaign in offense and defense. Valeria Caro has been a total joy in the gym and has elevated her play and those around her with her positive, no fear attitude. Caro will be a defensive specialist this season."

Unlike some teams, Wanderer doesn't set his team's goals with criteria such as a set number of wins, placement in the standings, or postseason berths. He measures the season's success in a different way.

"Our goals are always the same ― to embrace learning, to pursue the edge of our abilities, and to do it all as a team," said Wanderer. "We seldom place outcome goals on what we do. We believe that the outcome will reflect our processes. Our commitment to excellence and our commitment to our team will result in a lifetime of success."

Looking around the conference, Wanderer expects Fresno City College to be among the CVC's best after having won the last 12 titles and advancing to the state championship final. But he feels the conference is loaded from top to bottom and knows his team can't take anyone lightly.

"There will be more parity this year than in almost any other in the last 15 years," he said. "Fresno City College is expected to finish atop the conference, but every night will be a dog fight for every team. Every team we face will be really good. We'll have our hands full that's for sure."

Following the opening matches on Friday, the Falcons will hit the road again for a pair of contests at the College of Alameda Cougar Classic on Saturday (Aug. 31). West Hills will take on Skyline College at 10 a.m. before facing City College of San Francisco at 2 p.m.

West Hills will play its first eight matches on the road before making its 2019 home debut on Sep. 18. The Falcons will host College of the Sequoias in both teams' Central Valley Conference opener at 6 p.m. They will look to get off to a fast start in conference action, playing three of their first four CVC matches at home.