VOLLEYBALL Jolina Castaneda: Texas-sized volleyball dreams

Farmersville junior Jolina Castaneda works on overcoming obstacles to playing college volleyball at her dream school

FARMERSVILLE – Farmersville setter Jolina Castaneda works hard on and off the court to achieve her dreams of playing volleyball for the Texas Longhorns, the number one team in the country.

Jolina Castaneda has been playing volleyball her whole life. She grew up surrounded by volleyball as several members of her family played. Her aunt and uncle played beach volleyball, her mom played in high school and her older sister, Jordan, played as well. Castaneda is only a junior at Farmersville High School, but has dreams of playing volleyball for the University of Texas at Austin. Her main hurdle to climb is her height, but she won’t let that stop her. She plans to switch positions, as long as it means she will be able to continue playing the game she loves. 

“My dream is to play for the Texas Longhorns,” Castaneda said. “But anywhere I’d be more than happy to play.”

Castaneda is a setter and is leading the Farmersville Aztecs to be an exceptionally good team this year. They are undefeated in league play and only have two losses this season. On a volleyball team, the setter essentially runs the offense, directing the ball to the hitters for the kill. A good setter is essential to a good volleyball team. Castaneda is only a junior, but she’s a captain of the team, a leader. She hopes to take her talents to the court in college, but it may not be as a setter. 

The average NCAA Division I setter is 5’10” or taller. Castaneda is only 5’5”. But division I liberos are generally much shorter than their teammates. While hitters are taller than 6’ on average, liberos are generally 5’5”, the same height as Castaneda.

“I do know that I lack the height,” Castaneda said. “So playing libero isn’t a bad idea.”

In volleyball, a libero is the player who wears a different colored jersey. They’re a defensive specialist that only plays in the back row. They replace one player that does not play in the back row. When a front row player is not good at back row defense, they are substituted by a libero for three rotations before they come back into play across the front row. There is an official assigned to track libero substitutions throughout a game.

The libero also has a few other rules governing when and how they touch the ball outside of digs and passes. Liberos are prohibited from “completing an attack hit” if the ball is above the net–meaning they can’t jump for a hit. They can, however, hit with both feet on the ground. They are also not allowed to perform an overhead set in front of the attack line or the ten foot line. 

She knows to achieve her goals of playing in college, she’ll have to keep up her defensive skills in order to play as a libero. She and her sister, who is also the Farmersville JV volleyball coach, work mainly on passing, but also on setting to make sure she’s where she needs to be for the team at the moment.

“She stays pretty focused,”  Farmersville head coach David Light said. “I think that’s what makes her so good.”

According to Light, Castaneda’s tenacity and instincts make her unique as a setter. She sets goals and pursues them and can be hard on herself when something isn’t going right for her. Her experience with her family and playing club has given her a certain instinct on the court that makes her invaluable as a player.

“She knows if there’s an issue,” Light said. “She knows how to address it to the official. I don’t tell her where to set and she’s intelligent enough to go back to a hitter if they’ve made a mistake to get them back in the game.”

The University of Texas at Austin is currently ranked number one in women’s volleyball. They have an undefeated record of 11-0. Between 2007 and 2020, Texas won 94% of their Big XII matches. They’ve won the Big XII volleyball championship 14 times, including the last five years in a row. The last time they won the national championship, however, was 2012.

Texas is a tough school academically. But that should be no issue for Castaneda, who has a high academic standing at Farmersville High School. She’s taking two AP classes her junior year and her favorite subject is history.

“Outside of school I’m a little nerdy,” Castaneda admitted. “I kind of hide out and do school work. I’m just trying to stay active and pad my resume at the moment.”

Besides reading and schoolwork, Castaneda loves writing short stories and photography. She likes to take photos of her sister and her mom. In college, she’d like to study kinesiology and eventually become an athletic trainer.

Castaneda makes sure to balance her schoolwork and sports with time with her friends: teammates Rachel Rojas and Jazmaine Stewart. While they do spend time working on skills outside of practice with Castaneda’s sister, they find time to do normal teenage activities, like going to the movies.

“She loves to talk to people,” Castaneda’s sister, Jordan, said. “She tries to keep sports and her social life separate, but she makes sure she has those friends supporting her and she supports them as well.”

That support helps Castaneda when she’s pushing herself to be the best she can be. Castaneda has the dream of many young volleyball players. Texas has an elite volleyball program and is popular among students on campus. More spectators pack into Gregory Gym for volleyball games than for basketball games. Aside from football, it is probably the most popular fall sport. Texas volleyball alum Chiaka Ogbogu even made the USA volleyball team for the Tokyo Olympics. 

“I’ve been watching them play since I was a little kid,” Castaneda said. “But I’ve never been to Texas.”

Not only has she been watching volleyball since she was young, she has been playing. When Jordan began playing club volleyball, Castaneda joined her. At nine years old, she played on a team with twelve year olds.

“It was a blessing and a curse,” Castaneda said. “It was a blessing to be able to tell people I am good enough to play at that level, but they were all older and I still watched Spongebob in the mornings.”

The Castaneda family played volleyball together whenever they could. Jolina’s father, aunt and uncle would get everyone together to play. They’d play on sand courts or grass courts and sometimes even have doubles tournaments in the family. Though they started with their family, as Castaneda and her sister got older, they got into playing club and school volleyball and often play with friends now.

Whether she ends up at Texas or somewhere else, Castaneda is a player Farmersville will remember.

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