Exeter overcomes slow start to season to win 12 of last 13 games
EXETER – After a slow 2-6 start to the season, things are beginning to click for the Monarchs. Despite various injuries and a quarantine period due to COVID-19 protocols, they have won 12 of their last 13 games and are back in the mix as a top two team in the Central Sequoia League (CSL).
Head Coach Samantha Hilvers admitted early in the season that this will be a year of growing pains, which is a prediction that has come to pass. Like most schools around the state that didn’t get a chance to play last year, the Monarchs are an inexperienced bunch. According to Hilvers, her squad needed a few weeks of tough competition so they could understand what it takes to play at a high level. They stayed competitive through their 2-6 start as four of six losses came down to the final set.
The turning point came during the last weekend in August at the Clovis Challenge tournament. They opened the weekend with a win over San Joaquin Memorial before dropping three straight games to Stockdale, Central Valley Christian (CVC), and St. Joseph. Despite losing in three sets, it was the game against CVC where things began to click.
“It was the first time that I saw the girls play as a unit, and they looked like they were playing cohesive volleyball. The movement on the court was smooth…it wasn’t very choppy and there wasn’t a lot of hesitation,” Hilvers said. “I definitely feel like that game against CVC was kind of that turning point for them where they started to figure it out and be like, ‘okay we can do this, we are capable of doing it.’”
After going 1-3 on Friday at the tournament, they came back Saturday and went 4-0 to win the Silver Division, as league foe CVC won the championship division. That started a string of seven straight wins before another loss in the opening round of league play against CVC, but then they got right back to it and started their current five game winning streak. There’s no ideal time to be exposed to COVID-19, but the Monarchs had it happen right after winning their second league game against Selma on Sept. 15.
“It’s been rough. We were making really good strides and then all of a sudden to be told that you can’t touch volleyball for a week was hard for the girls. They kind of had a little bit of flashbacks to the 2020 season when we were told you can’t play,” Hilvers said. “They’re trying to get back to where they were. For anybody that’s had COVID they know that it can wreak havoc on your body and even if you’re healthy, it takes a while to get back to 100%. And so some of the athletes are dealing with that right now.”
As a result of their quarantine period, they missed a tournament and played four CSL games in six days. Despite having to shake off some rust, they won every matchup with only two set losses during that span. It culminated with a win Monday over Immanuel, and they get a day off before a rematch tonight against CVC. They’ll get another tournament this weekend in Stockton to build on their momentum before finishing the second half of their league schedule and then turning their sights on a Valley title.