Youngest Light Sisters Are Helping Pleasant Grove Volleyball Illuminate A Path Toward Sac-Joaquin Section Glory •
It is the middle of an era of sorts for the Pleasant Grove volleyball program. It’s an era of Light, as in the Light sisters.
And while the two youngest Light sisters, Vivian and Jade, play key roles, this year’s team also features three solid seniors and hopes to go far in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and CIF Northern California girls volleyball playoffs.
Despite a rough showing at the Stockton Classic on Oct. 13, the Eagles entered the final week of the regular season with a 23-6 record, and two of those six losses coming at the hands of Delta League rival St. Francis-Sacramento — which entered October as the No. 1 ranked team in the section overall and among the top 15 in the state (according to the CalHiSports.com State Top 20). Regardless of how the regular season concludes, Pleasant Grove should remain a threat in the section’s top division.
Coach Natalie Wells’ squad has already won the CIVT tourney championship with a 2-0 victory in the final over Folsom. The Eagles also reached the semifinals of the ECIVT event before taking a loss to California-San Ramon.
“They’re really hungry and they want to get better every day,” said Wells, who was the JV coach last season before taking over for previous varsity coach Brian Contreras. “It keeps us hungry to be in the same league as St. Francis. After we lost that first match, they immediately said they can’t wait to get back in the gym. It helps (St. Francis) is at the top of the league. It’s pushing my girls to be very competitive.”
St. Francis won the first league match between the teams in four sets on Sept. 6. A little less than a month later, the Eagles hosted the Troubadours and lost in a three-game sweep that was much closer than it sounds. The sets went 25-23, 25-20, 25-22.
The two Light sisters on this year’s team — sophomore Vivian and freshman Jade — ranked second and third for kills with 218 and 110, respectively, through an Oct. 11 win over Davis. Senior Shelby Young ranked first with 230 while the other two seniors — Riley Tishlarich and Ireland Grubbs — provide major roles in other areas.
Tishlarich is a setter who runs the team’s 5-1 offense. She had 563 assists after 25 matches — including 71 combined assists in wins over Cosumnes Oaks and Davis during the week of Oct. 9. Grubbs is a middle blocker who is one of the most inspirational players in Northern California. She didn’t play volleyball at all last season, due to a surgery on her ribcage. She has to have another surgery in the middle of November and everyone on the team is hoping it will be after a memorable playoff run.
“She’s basically playing with a bar in her chest,” Wells said of Grubbs. “When we beat Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills) earlier this season, Ireland was the difference-maker.”
Having not one but two Light sisters on the floor also has tended to create a difference between Pleasant Grove and its opponents.
The oldest of the four girls, Alexis, was the MVP of the Delta River League in 2016. She also was a CIF Sac-Joaquin Section MVP. She’s now at UCLA. Next up was Lily, who was the leader of last year’s squad. She’s now at Santa Clara.
“It’s just fun to be part of it and fun to be on the court with any of my sisters,” said Vivian Light during a late September phone interview. “Last year, it was Lily and I getting to play with each other and now it’s Jade and I. Yeah, I knew I was going to playing with them (at Pleasant Grove) for awhile.”
That phone call came after the Light family had just watched Lily play for Santa Clara in a match against Pepperdine. The night before, they were in the stands in Berkeley when UCLA and Alexis had a match against Cal.
With Alexis and Lily just one year apart, they played together on Pleasant Grove teams during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. Last year’s team included Lily as a senior and Vivian as a freshman. This year it’s Vivian as a sophomore and Jade as a freshman. Those two then will be teammates again for the Eagles for both the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
After Jade’s expected graduation following the 2021 season, the nine-year era of Light sisters that began in 2013 with Alexis’ freshman season at the school will be over.
The Light family may still be represented in athletics at Pleasant Grove for many years after that, too. It’s just that the next three siblings coming up — Quenton, Canyon and Orion — are all boys.
“They are age 11, 8 and 6,” Vivian said with pride in talking about her brothers. “They all play basketball and soccer and they’re all swimmers.”
The parents in the middle of this family are dad Jeff, who played baseball at Stanford and was a 13th round pick in the 1991 MLB amateur draft, and mom Jessica, who was a Stanford volleyball player under her maiden name of Jessica Benton.
“They’ve been around the game for quite awhile and they’ve been watching their older sisters,” Wells said of the two Light sisters currently on the Pleasant Grove team.
“They’ve all got that competitive drive. Alexis and Jade are more subtle. Vivian and Lily are way more outward. The two we have now are different in some ways as players, but they’ve seen the numbers that Lily and Alexis put up. The all want to be the No. 1 Light.”
For this year, though, Vivian and Jade are more than happy to let Pleasant Grove’s three seniors serve as the primary leaders. And having a setter like Riley Tishlarich helps a lot, too.
“I love playing with her and the other seniors,” Vivian said. “Riley is not only good at what she does, but keeps all of us synchronized.”
It’s the type of synchronization that has to be done every day in the life of Jeff and Jessica Light and their seven very active, very athletic children.