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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Girls’ volleyball scoring victories with new coach and strong freshmen

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William Norwood
Outside hitter Emmy Pak mid-serve during the second of five games against Fremont on Sept. 14.

In an away game against Milpitas High School on Sept. 12, freshman outside hitter Iris Jin glided through the air in an adrenaline-filled rush, her focused eyes following the ball before making a resounding kill to the opposite side of the court. Jubilant shouts from her teammates sounded across the gym as they gathered around her to celebrate their first El Camino division win. 

With just three seniors on the team this year — pin hitter and co-captain Anjali Aarkoti, defensive specialist Natalie Chua and opposite hitter Ariel Zhou — the girls’ volleyball team is relying on a youth movement to fill its roster, and players like Jin are playing huge roles.

Concerns about a smaller roster with majority freshmen and former JV players defined the team’s pre-season. However, the team has continued through the season with a largely successful streak of league games — losing 3-0 against Lynbrook on Sept. 21 and winning 3-2 against Fremont on Sept. 14, 3-1 against Milpitas and 3-0 against Wilcox on Sept. 7.

New freshmen players — Jin, middle blocker Aanya Hotha and libero Morgan Li — brought an infusion of new talent to the team this year, filling the void that many team members anticipated after the loss of seven seniors last year. In the process, the freshmen have adapted to the rigors of playing in high school.

“I’ve gotten to know my teammates and coach better, considering that it’s only been a few weeks. The other two freshmen and I definitely have a unique bond,” Jin said. “Having practice almost every day helps build team chemistry and strengthen our relationships.” 

The team has also had time to adjust to the new varsity head coach Yakgna Arumugam, who was the JV head coach last year. Arumugam has put more emphasis on motivating the players, which, according to junior middle blocker Shreya Raghuvanshi, has been one of the reasons for the team’s high energy during games.

“He always says that winning is secondary and tells us to enjoy playing, which I feel helps us keep a good balance of having fun while also focusing on doing well,” Raghuvanshi said. “Personally, it helps me fight for points without overthinking my every move.”

Arumugam mainly works on aspects that help the team become more cohesive, such as serve receives, getting blocks up for the middle blockers and working on team defense. However, Raghuvanshi says that a majority of the team’s success is, in part, due to their synergy with each other.

“Obviously playing well is dependent on skill, but it’s also based on communication and how the team dynamic works, which I think is more the team’s responsibility than the coach’s,” Raghuvanshi said. “We are able to trust each other on the court.” 

Arumugam was the former girls’ volleyball JV coach, coaching junior opposite hitter Kendra Joe, junior setter Narmeen Khericha and junior libero Caitlin Lee while they were on the team last year. Lee said being used to his coaching style and knowing most of her teammates beforehand has made it easier to acclimate to the team from JV. 

Lee also said her transition from JV to varsity resulted in a shift in mindset.

“The players on varsity are a lot more experienced because most of them play club, so being on the team has sort of reflected on how motivated I am to try my hardest,” she said.

Based on the way the season has progressed so far, Aarkoti said winning the El Camino division and making CCS is possible, as long as they work on strengthening defense in order to get better passes to the setter.

“It’s definitely not going to be easy, especially because of teams like Lynbrook and Milpitas, but we’ve had a good streak so far so I’m confident that we’ll make it,” Aarkoti said.

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