Emotions ran high on Thursday, Oct. 30 inside the gym at Oakdale High School as the 2014 edition of the Lady Mustangs claimed the Valley Oak League varsity volleyball title in the final regular season game for longtime coach Shelli Ponce.
Mustang fans filled the bleachers to bid farewell to five seniors on the team and coach Ponce during Senior Night 2014. Kaitlin Burke, Stephanie Kupper, Nichole Desrochers, Kendra Whorton and Jennifer Guzman were all honored prior to the start of the team’s match against visiting Weston Ranch.
“It’s crazy how time flies. It is such an emotional night, but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” said an excited Stephanie Kupper.
Oakdale (13-1) edged out Weston Ranch in three sets 25-13 25-20 25-23 to earn the 2014 VOL title, making it the fifth time the Lady Mustangs have been VOL champions under head coach Ponce.
As a group, the team said they wanted to make Ponce proud of them and fittingly wrapped up the title.
The CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs are set to begin Thursday, Nov. 6. Oakdale’s first round opponent was yet to be determined as of press time.
After 20 years as a loyal, successful volleyball coach, Ponce had earlier indicated this season would be her last and shared some thoughts on the two decades of service.
“It’s been a fun ride. Seeing the girls improve throughout the season, and seeing their hard work and dedication pay off each time they step onto the court, the support from the parents toward the volleyball program, which is a large part of the program’s success over the past twenty years,” Ponce commented on the things she would miss the most.
Ponce was hired in 1994 and became the team’s head coach in 2000. In that time period she has won five Valley Oak League titles, had 20 winning seasons, 14 playoff appearances since taking over as head coach, two Nor Cal Finals appearances and numerous athletes go on to play volleyball for colleges and universities across the nation.
Ponce grew up in Boise, Idaho where she attended Ricks University. She was a part of the volleyball team until the discovery of a noncancerous tumor in her foot that sidelined her for the remainder of her college career. In 1985 she married Cleto Ponce.
“She is very dedicated to the sport. She starts in summer and goes until late November every year and enjoys what she does. She is always thinking of ways to help the team improve, even during the off season,” stated Cleto about his wife’s work ethic.
There is little doubt that Ponce has influenced, motivated and inspired others to strive to be the best they can be, both on and off the field.
“It’s been a huge honor to be her assistant coach. I played for her in high school and she has done so much for the program and its athletes,” praised Heather Gonzalez. “She will be missed but I wish her nothing but the best.”
Postseason is still to come, but the crowd and team were thrilled that, on her final night as head coach of the 2014 regular season, Ponce and her squad once again could claim the Valley Oak League title.
“It’s a nice way to send her off,” said senior Kendra Whorton.