SANTA MARIA — Before every home game, the Santa Maria Lady Cougars volleyball teams walks past a banner that stands out from all the rest.
At first, it looks like every other banner that hangs in the gymnasium. It’s blue with yellow lettering. But it’s what is on the banner that tells the story of a team that defied expectations and paved a new road. One that led the team to its first-ever regional quarterfinal appearance last season.
However, that was last year and this season half of those players who were part of that team are gone. And as every coach knows, with a new season comes new challenges. But somewhere between the unforgettable journey of a historic 2016 season and the start of a new 2017 season, Santa Maria head volleyball coach Sofia Garcia and assistant coach Tanya Sierra found a way to construct the identity of a team and inspire nine girls to look within.
How? With one simple item: A book. A book by Jon Gordon titled “The Hard Hat – 21 Ways To Be a Great Teammate.”
“After we both read it, we were like, ‘We have to get the girls to read it,’” said Garcia. “That book sends the message that we want. Like, for instance, we have to put the work in every day. Like the blue collar worker that gets up every day and works hard for what he wants because nothing is going to be given to you. We want the girls to be those types of leaders that build up their teammates rather than bring them down.”
THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING NEW
The book inspired the group to make its own “hard hat” to symbolize the hard-working attitude that the team has embraced. And it didn’t stop there.
After the team finished reading the book, Coach Garcia asked every player to think of a word that best reflected themselves as an individual. And so they wouldn’t forget, each player put that word on a poster that they see every day in the gymnasium. A poster they take to every away game they go on.
Keana Ortiz chose the word “humble.” Lori Ayala chose “relentless,” Isabel Gonzales picked “dedication,” Alyzza Garcia chose “fearless,” Jessica Villarreal “courageous,” Kristen Aleman “unstoppable,” Byanca Cantu “tenacious,” Bianca Aleman “believer,” and Aiesha Velasquez choose “prideful.” Together, the words became the identity of the team.
And while the team might have found a new identity this season, the magic from last season will never be forgotten.
“That banner says first area championship in school history, and every time we walk by it I think ‘wow we did that,’” said Keana Ortiz. “It (last season) felt amazing because everyone has gone to bi-district and to the second round, but nobody had ever gone to the regional quarterfinals. It was really cool because we had the whole town come out and support us. Our bleachers were always packed.
“Our first playoff game in Edcouch, we felt like Justin Bieber getting out of a tour bus because a lot of our fans were lined up all along the pathway to the gym and once you got inside the gym you couldn’t move because there were so many people.”
“I won’t forget that team in general,” added teammate Lori Ayala. “We made history together last year and I won’t forget our teammates. It’s going to take everything that we’ve got to get back to where we got last year, but everybody knows their positions on the court and they know what to do, and what not to do. I feel proud that we did that, now lets do it again.”
The Lady Cougars start their 2017 postseason journey at 7 tonight against Premont at the Edinburg Economedes gym.