Many of the faces will be new, but the expectations and the demands of Oakdale Lady Mustang volleyball head coach Shelli Ponce will not vary too much. Like each and every season the Oakdale head coach will be focused on guiding her team to the Valley Oak League title and recently the team took steps in the sand to do just that.
Ponce organized a varsity team getaway to the beaches of the Watsonville area, bringing her highly-touted returning seniors and the team’s new faces together for a three-day extravaganza that gave the squad its first real bonding experience long before the VOL opener.
The team made the drive from Oakdale High to an oceanside beach house in Watsonville, near Monterey, where the unit played games, traveled, watched movies and mostly just got to know one another.
“Most of the girls that went on the trip,” Oakdale senior Juli Powell said, “they were girls that I have never played with, so it was cool to get to know them when we haven’t even really played a game together.
“It was a great way to get to know the younger girls.”
The directive was simple; Coach Ponce wanted her first year varsity players to get to know the players who have been instrumental over the teams’ past two playoff seasons.
“Our primary goal was to bring the girls together,” Ponce explained. “We knew we’d have several of the underclassmen coming up giving us a whole different group.
“We wanted the girls to get to know each other a little better and establish some team bonding.”
The trip was classified as a success, outside of a little tire trouble on the way there, yet that even that couldn’t stop the bonding of the veterans and the ‘newbies’ as they journeyed to some of California’s prettiest landscapes.
“I really had a great time,” returning varsity starter Jackee Lee said. “I liked having the opportunity of getting some one-on-one time with all the girls. We haven’t really spoken since school ended, so that was fun just getting to hang out.”
The group spent the entire trip together, getting in the most fun during games and activities that they played in the house. No player bigger than any other, just a group of girls focused on continuing a winning tradition that has been cemented over the past few seasons.
“We played so many different games and even charades,” Powell said. “Stuff really focused on team bonding and getting to know each other. All of the girls slept downstairs in like one big den, so that was fun.”
The time the squad spent together just may be the difference in that fifth set against Sonora, or in their first road VOL match-up. Nonetheless, it has given them an advantage that very few teams in the ultra-competitive VOL can say that they have. It makes a huge difference when you go to battle with players that you genuinely like and appreciate.
“I definitely feel this will build on our team chemistry for the season,” Powell said. “Things were kind of a little bit bumpy at first and now you can see us all coming together.”