After A 16-2 Start To Its Season, The Ponderosa Girls Volleyball Team Isn’t Shy About Its Big Goals •
Story by STEVEN WILSON | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH
Julin Kenison isn’t wasting any time with typical goals.
The junior outside hitter for Ponderosa High School’s girls volleyball team has her sights set on a championship run, and her team has shown the promise to back up her claim through one half of the Capital Valley Conference season.
“We’re trying to go to state,” Kenison said without hesitation. “Yeah, we missed the playoffs by one game last year, so getting to the playoffs is part of our goal, but once we get there we really want to go all the way.”
Much like her lofty goals, Kenison doesn’t waste any time on the court either.
She slammed home a pair of set-clinching kills last Wednesday night against Cosumnes Oaks as two of the top five teams in the area squared off in Elk Grove. Those two kills helped Ponderosa earn a five-set victory and improve to 7-0 in CVC play (25-22, 23-25, 16-25, 25-14 & 15-10).
“They’re the toughest team we’ll face in league, so that was big,” Kenison said. “We beat them two out of three earlier in the year, but we wanted to see if we could beat them three out of five.”
After taking down Cosumnes Oaks in preseason play, the Bruins leaned on their speedy, wide-ranging offense to attack the holes in the Wolf Pack defense.
Kenison finished third on the team with nine kills, trailing only her fellow juniors Kendall Kott (12 kills) and Zoe Zimmerman (11 kills). Together, they pieced together a two-set comeback after trailing 2-1 early in the match.
“That win was huge because we moved into first place at 7-0,” Ponderosa coach Mike Yates said. “If we lost, then we were both going to be tied at 6-1 and then it comes down to that final match, and we would probably need a win. So this gave us a huge confidence booster, because their team, in my opinion, is the most athletic team in the area right now.”
The Bruins are off to their best start since 2011 — a group that began the year 13-2 and reached the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Div. II playoffs — and they’ve already beaten every team in the CVC at least once.
“Beating some of those teams gave us a lot of confidence, but we’ve been ranked first or second in the area for a while so we’ve had a big target on our back,” Kott pointed out. “We need to keep this up and prove that we earned that rating.”
Kott is one of two setters in Yates’ rotation and she doubles as an outside hitter. She says this team has the chemistry to withstand other teams’ runs and still mount a comeback, much like the Sept. 27 match with Cosumnes Oaks.
“We’re a really tight team,” Kott stated. “Five of us played on varsity last year, so we’ve come to know each other really well and we can build off that this season.”
Kott, Kenison and Zimmerman join setter Brooke Ono and libero Sessa Renfew as the five key juniors on the squad. Throw in a pair of senior captains in Kelsey Yoder, a strong middle blocker, and Anna Hicks, a two-sport standout for Yates’ squad, and the Bruins have plenty of experience to back up their lofty claims.
That deep junior group all played big minutes last year as the Bruins finished fourth in the CVC and nearly went to the postseason with a 15-14 record and 8-6 mark in league.
“We were top-16 in the area all year, but we didn’t get to go to playoffs because we were fourth (in our league),” Yates acknowledged. “It was a sophomore-dominant team, but that can happen — there’s a lot of good teams that don’t get to go to playoffs because they happen to be in a tough league.”
This year, the CVC has one extra automatic playoff bid, bumping their total to four. Yet there’s five or six teams in the fight for those spots.
But Ponderosa shouldn’t need to worry about simply reaching the playoffs. The Bruins are atop the conference, and have found a way to beat Cosumnes Oaks — the second-best team in the CVC — twice. In doing so, the team found a way to slow down the Wolfpack’s 6-foot-2 outside hitter Amaria Kelley, a junior who already has a handful of Div. I college offers.
Yates knows his squad doesn’t have intimidating height, or size like Cosumnes Oaks, but he does have speedy, wide-ranging players who can seemingly do it all — dig, pass, set, spike — and do it all very well.
“I preached for my kids to play sand volleyball this past spring,” Yates explained. “That way you learn to do it all — hit, pass, dig, set, serve … which allows them to be more well-rounded. And the ability of my kids to do multiple things is what makes this team strong.”
Yates hopes to one day create a club beach volleyball program through local high schools, but noted that many of his players hit the sand during the past summer in anticipation for the regular season.
That helped his squad hit the ground running in August. The Bruins have only lost twice, once to SJS Div. I power Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills, in five sets, and once to Galena-Reno (Nev.) in a surprise upset after beating them in the same preseason tournament prior.
The team bounced back with nine straight wins and didn’t shy away from a challenge after falling in a 2-1 hole against Cosumnes Oaks. Rather, Ponderosa came out strong in the fourth set with precise serving and recorded three aces en route to a dominating 18-4 lead and a 25-14 win. The Bruins followed it up with a 15-10 win in the fifth set, capped by a midcourt kill from Kenison.
It was a full team effort, showcasing skills in each facet of the game. It was a win that made Kenison’s state finals claim seem not so far-fetched.