El Capitan volleyball coach Maycol Fernandez could only be encouraged by what he saw from his team Thursday night.
Fernandez watched his Gauchos – a team playing its first varsity season with a roster full of underclassmen and two juniors – go toe-to-toe against the top team in the Western Athletic Conference in Los Banos.
In the end, the Tigers’ experience paid off as they held off El Capitan 26-24, 25-23, 25-18 to take over sole possession of first place in the WAC at 5-0. The Gauchos dropped to 5-1 in league.
“I just wanted them to go out and play instead of getting nervous,” Fernandez said. “I tried to be the most positive person. Usually, I just sit in the chair. Tonight, I didn’t sit down. Every timeout, I kept telling them how this was a good experience for them. I’m happy with how we played.”
The first two games could have gone either way.
The Gauchos found a way to stick around, but two mishits at the end of the first game and a few bad passes at the end of the second game were the difference.
“El Capitan is a good team,” said Los Banos coach Greg Soliz. “I’ve been telling my girls that all week. Even though we played Pacheco earlier this week, I knew we had this game coming up. I think our experience, having seniors, helped us get through this. We stayed composed.”
Fourth-year starter Jade Fachin led the way for the Tigers with 14 kills and 10 digs. Fachin had only four kills in the first game, but the Tigers turned to their star more as the match went on.
“She was big,” Soliz said. “I don’t want to take anything away from our other outside hitter, but when Jade was in the back row, that’s when El Capitan went on their runs. We wanted to hurry up and get Jade in the front row. She’s played varsity for four years. She doesn’t get rattled.”
Fernandez was interested to see how his team would come out against Los Banos. This was their biggest game to date.
“They’ve been talking about it, thinking about this game all week,” Fernandez said.
The Gauchos had their spurts.
The lead changed hands seven times in the first game. Los Banos ran off four consecutive points to break a 15-15 tie and El Cap answered with a 6-1 run to take a 21-20 lead. The game was eventually tied 24-24 before two Gauchos mistakes led to the Tigers taking the game 26-24.
The second game was also back and forth with the teams exchanging runs. El Cap got fortunate with a ball hitting a ceiling beam and landing on Los Banos’ side of the court to give the Gauchos a 23-21 lead late.
However, the Tigers answered with four consecutive points to close out the game. Evelyn Johnson put the game away when two errant El Capitan passes went over the net to set her up with easy blocks. Johnson finished with five blocks.
Still, El Capitan had its moments. Adyn Walten took some impressive swings, finishing with seven kills. Grace Patterson also finished with seven kills. Dayana Torres was solid orchestrating the offense with 18 assists.
“It’s nice to see us grow,” Torres said. “I think we learned we are fighters. We can do anything as long as we believe in each other.”