Heather Anderson went into her second season as Lathrop High’s girls volleyball coach feeling good about the direction it was heading.
Then in came this stranger from Bay Area.
“I didn’t know her or anything about her,” Anderson said of Jahsita Fa’ali’i, who was then an incoming sophomore transfer from Encinal of Alameda.
“She became the center of our program.”
In an instant, the Spartans became contenders, and they went on to capture their first league title with an undefeated run through the Western Athletic Conference this past fall season. Fa’ali’i highlights three area players who earned top honors in their respective leagues. Teammate Hailey Hunter was selected Outstanding Defensive Player in the WAC, while Ripon Christian sophomore Emily Van Groningen is Co-MVP of the Southern Athletic League.
Anderson is the WAC Coach of the Year after she, Fa’ali’i and Hunter led Lathrop to a 23-5 overall finish. The Spartans also hosted a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff match for the first time, falling in three to Kimball in the Division III opener.
The Offensive Player of the Year in 2018, Fa’ali’i led all WAC players with 256 kills, tallying 5.6 per set. She added 49 aces and 189 digs.
“She’s not only very talented, but also an incredible leader,” Anderson said of the 5-foot-9 outside hitter. “What I love about her is she is super modest. There is not an arrogant bone in her body despite her abilities and the other girls respect her for her character as well as her skills.”
In the SAL, Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champion Ripon Christian (13-1, 25-11 overall) totaled four all-league selections with the 6-foot-2 Van Groningen anchoring the front row.
Van Groningen follows Paige Vos and Makenzie Miller as the third Knights player in the last three years to be crowned MVP. She amassed 381 kills, 396 digs, 55 blocks and 44 aces overall for the season.
Valley Oak League
Third-place Manteca (9-3, 16-7) was awarded two all-league first-team selections in senior middle Kaylee MacDannald and sophomore defensive specialist Abbey Kadillak.
MacDannald finished with 74 kills, 39 blocks, 77 service points and 10 aces in league, while Kadillak had 202 digs, 120 service points and 36 aces. East Union standout Savannah LeBarre also made all-league, turning in 147 kills, 78 digs, 215 digs and 54 blocks.
Kimball libero Rein Bocage earned MVP, while Central Catholic’s Tessa Gallo and Oakdale’s Emma Harper are Co-Most Outstanding. Central Catholic, coached by Sierra graduate Michelle Springmeyer, won the SJS Division III title and reached the CIF State Division II Northern California Regional final.
Area players getting spots on the All-VOL second team: East Union setter/outside hitter Miekayla Surnip Manteca outside hitters Adrianna Powell and Camrenne Genilla, Sierra freshman Rebecca Thomson, Sierra middle blocker Natalie Dias and Weston Ranch outside hitter Julianna Lassiter.
Sierra’s Ashlee Matterolli and Stella Brierly, East Union’s Bayle Spencer, Manteca’s Karlie Spohn and Weston Ranch’s Cheyene Lewis received honorable mention.
Trans Valley League
With runaway champion Hilmar sweeping all the major awards, Ripon (9-3, 19-6) was able to land three all-league selections.
Making the cut were senior middle Alyssa Barrios (104 kills, 33 aces, 55 blocks, 134 digs), junior defensive specialist Macie McPeak (163 digs) and senior opposite/defensive specialist Brooke Kaiser (95 kills, 46 aces, 193 digs). Senior setter Shannon Johnson and senior outside hitter Jordynn Russell earned honorable mention.
Hilmar’s Kayley Souza and Mikela Labno split the MVP award, and fellow Yellowjacket Liv Petersen is Most Outstanding Player.
Western Athletic Conference
With Fa’ali’i handling much of the load offensively, Hunter helped lock down the back row for Lathrop. She paced the Spartans with 319 digs in league and chipped in 35 service aces to the attack.
Senior setter Jennifer Santillan also got an all-league nod, delivering 419 assists. Sophomore middle blocker Sydney Hanks made the All-WAC second team, while junior defensive specialist Desiree Ambatali and sophomore outside hitter Krystle Sakay made honorable mention.
Southern Athletic League
Three Ripon Christian seniors were recognized on the all-league team along with Van Groningen.
Productive setters Morgan Van Elderen and Ariel Vander Woude led the way. Vander Woude accumulated 551 assists, 340 digs, 77 aces, 95 kills and 11 blocks. Van Elderen tallied 366 assists, 274 digs, 54 aces, 186 kills and 37 blocks. Lauren Braga also made all-league with 270 digs, 66 aces and 38 kills.
Senior libero Charlotte teVelde and junior outside hitter Natasha Smith earned honorable mention.