Aztec volleyball making major strides after a year of impressive rebuilding

By Alex Zener

BRH_0041Halfway through the season, the Aztec volleyball
team’s nine returning and four new players are
determined to prove that after a transformational
season last year they are not the same 12-21 team that fell
short in their pursuit of a state tournament win.
“We have learned a lot in the first half of (this year’s)
season and are currently
8-2,” said coach Brynne
Evans. “This group of
players wants to prove
something after a rebuilding
year last year. They are
working hard to do that
and they are finding more
confidence in each win.”
Evans has been relying
on the leadership and skill
of three seniors to lead the
way for her team this season:
Matthew Lake, Braedon
O’Meara and Michael
Rivera.
“We have found
strength in the leadership
of Matt Lake, our opposite
hitter and co-captain,” said
Evans. “I knew before the
season started that other
teams would view him as a
threat. To our team he is a
player we can rely on to be a
game changer when we need
it.”
Lake has definitely
lived up to expectations,
leading the team in kills with
53 in 22 sets or over 2.4 kills
a set, hitting .248.
“Braedon, another captain, is our returning middle
blocker,” said Evans. “I count on him to take control
at the net and lead our younger players because of his
experience.”
Evans also returns Rivera, an opposite
hitter turned middle blocker during the club
season.
“Michael is doing some wonderful
things as a middle blocker this season, plus
he is someone I can count on to be a leader
for our young team. He is very vocal and
competitive,” said Evans.
Also returning and making a
diff erence is sophomore outside hitter
Jeff rey McCain. McCain is second on the
team in kills, behind only Lake, with 35
in the 21 sets he has played. What’s most
impressive is his solo blocking ability. He
has 17 solo blocks and 20 total blocks, or
close to three blocks a match.
Two young varsity players have taken
on big roles that have had a positive impact
on the success of this season’s team as well.
Sophomore Ryan Iskandar has
embraced the job of setter and quarterback
on the court and has been very successful.
He tallied 77 assists in 15 sets or over fi ve
assists a set, committing only four ball
handling errors.
“Ryan, who has great work ethic and
court sense, played with the team a bit last
year,” said Evans. “I’ve enjoyed watching
him develop a relationship with and take
the responsibility of setting our hitters on
this season’s team, as well as maturing as a
player.”
The team has another sophomore,
Antonio Guarino, who has a major role
in the Aztecs’ success or failure on the
court. Guarino, as the libero or defensive
specialist, has had a splendid season so far
playing in all 25 sets, recording 97 digs,
almost four a set, and close to 14 a match.
“Antonio is a good communicator
and defender in the back row for us. Even
though he appears to be on the fl oor more
than on his feet, he is a very hard worker
and has improved steadily this season,”
said Evans. “He is our strongest in serve
receive.”
Guarino has received the serve 110
times so far this season or almost 16 times a
match with only 9 errors.
Antonio has help from two other
defensive-minded returning players,
Juniors Ridge Vanderbur and Chris
Baker.
“Chris is our best at covering and
getting touches,” said Evans, “while Ridge
puts up a good playable ball on a dig.”
Three other returning players from
last season’s team contributing to the
team’s overall success on and off the court
are juniors Trystin Nelson, Aiden
Swansiger and Devon Nelson.
Two juniors new to the team had
limited volleyball experience before the
season began. “Alex Cox was raw at the
beginning of the season but took naturally
to the middle blocker position with huge
potential for improvement throughout the
season,” said Evans. “After the club season
he looked like a diff erent player and is busy
learning all the intricacies of his position.
I expect him to be one of our strongest
blockers by the end of the season.”
Junior outside hitter Russell Johns
has made quite the impression on his new
teammates.
“Russell was voted in as a captain
this season even though he was new to
the team,” said Evans. “He is that kind of
person and player—one who wants to be the
best, works hard and has taken naturally
to volleyball. He should have a bright
volleyball future.”
So far the Aztecs have relied on their
relentless pursuit to learn and improve.
Their consistent energy and positive
attitudes have helped defeat a high
percentage of the teams they have faced,
including most recently Mesquite 3-0 on
April 1 and Horizon Honors 3-0 on April 8.
They are even learning to fi nd the positive
aspects to take away from defeat.
“Taking a set off of Gilbert and Mesa
were both recent highlights to the season,”
said Evans. “Every win gives us more
confi dence. The boys are ready for more,
which is good because we have a tough
second half of our season ahead of us.”
The Aztecs were scheduled to play
at Dobson April 15 and at home against
Chandler April 17. Up next they will play
Hamilton at home April 22; at Desert
Vista April 24; and at home against Mesa
Mountain View April 29 before playing at
Mountain Pointe on May 1.

Posted by on Apr 20 2014. Filed under Sports, Top Story. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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