Champion Denair boys soccer players stay together to form volleyball team 

The boys on Denair’s two-time Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI soccer champions had so much fun competing as a team that even before their season ended in the NorCal playoffs in March, they decided to take up an entirely new sport – volleyball – just so they could stay together.

The athleticism and skill that has served the Coyotes so well on the soccer field the past two years appears to be translating to the court. Despite an entire roster of players brand new to volleyball, Denair will make the playoffs if it can knock off Orestimba at home Tuesday night in its final Southern League match of the regular season.

The quick success comes as a mild surprise to veteran volleyball coach Christy North, but not necessarily to her players, who have won 33 soccer matches playing together the past two seasons.

“Their expectations were always so much higher than mine, because they’re soccer champions,” North admitted. “The best thing about this team is they already were a team. They already trusted each other. They just needed to learn about to play volleyball.”

The idea of the soccer players transitioning to volleyball began with senior Tim Hernandez, the only player with previous volleyball experience. He has taken AP English from North the past two years, which is how he learned she needed players for the boys volleyball team. Hernandez recruited his friend Angel Sanchez, another senior. With the two of them onboard, most of the rest of the soccer team quickly followed their lead.

“I wanted to play volleyball last year, but the other guys wouldn’t commit,” said Hernsandez, who previously had played competitive volleyball in Cambodia, where his father was a pastor for five years. “But our entire soccer group is pretty tight, so when Angel and I committed as seniors, that convinced the others.”

That decision was made earlier this year, well before soccer season had ended.

After she found out the composition of her team, North quickly began arranging drills and lessons to introduce volleyball to boys who may have seen it played on TV, but barely knew the rules or any of the techniques of passing, serving, spiking and blocking.

“I would take the soccer players into the gym in seventh period and show them how to pass and how to serve,” North said. “But I was very careful. I didn’t want to jinx anything or get anyone hurt.”

In fact, the volleyball team’s first match had to be rescheduled because Denair had a NorCal soccer match the night before. The first time the Coyotes stepped on the floor in a real volleyball game was March 6 against Waterford.

“I didn’t know what it would be like,” North admitted. “They were confused with rotations a little, but I had drilled that into them. I didn’t want us to lose points by not being in the right spot. We ended up winning in three sets, but it was kind of chaotic.”

That positive start was followed, not surprisingly, by some growing pains. Still, the Coyotes are 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the Southern League with only Tuesday’s match against Orestimba remaining. Despite its lack of experience, Denair’s players still have enough natural athletic ability that they show measurable progress from practice to practice and game to game.

“We have guys like Angel who is a superior athlete,” North said. “He’s doing jump serves now. So are Tim, Manny (Renteria) and Nico (Zavala).”

The improvement was noticeable in Thursday night’s match against SL champion Ripon Christian, a school known for its dominance in volleyball. The Coyotes lost 3-0, but North saw signs her players could compete against a more talented team.

“The difference in speed is extraordinary between RC and us,” she said. “All their players play club volleyball. Still, we had some great moments. So we’re confident going into our match against Orestimba.”

No matter how the rest of this season plays out, North knows she has enough players already committed to field a team next year. That’s a change from 2020, when the season was wiped out by the COVID pandemic after just two matches, and the next two years, when there was no boys team.

This year’s team features five juniors, two sophomores, a freshman and just three seniors – all of whom are gaining valuable experience.

“Every single day that you see them play, you see them progress,” North said.

Hernandez believes playing volleyball has allowed him and his teammates to continue to enjoy their special bond.

“We just had to learn the fundamentals, like passing and hitting,” he said. “Mostly, we wanted to have fun. We’re a championship team and we hoped that would carry over to volleyball. We just like being together. Even the bus rides in volleyball are fun, just like in soccer.”

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