Santana Vasquez is the lone holdover from East Union’s inaugural boys volleyball team in 2017.
No one better represents the rise of the Lancers in the sport.
Chelsea Herrera, the club’s head coach all four years, said he is “the most changed player” she has coached.
“Santana was our only freshman at the time,” she said. “He was like 5-foot-4 and grew to about 6-1. Before, he couldn’t jump off the ground and now he can hit. He’s my utility player, a guy who knew all positions on the court except for setter. He just wants to get on the court.”
Unfortunately for Vasquez and the rest of the seniors, their time on the court was limited by a pandemic this season. Expectations for 2020 were higher than they’ve ever been after the Lancers earned a piece of their first Valley Oak League championship.
East Union has indeed come a long way since Year 1. The Lancers finished 4-18 overall and 2-8 in league. It was a senior-heavy group mostly consisting of athletes coming from other sports. For them, it was a fun way to go out.
The current team wanted to go out as champion.
“This year, we were still having fun with it but it seemed like we were also taking it real seriously,” Vasquez said. “We really wanted to be that team. We were not joking around — we wanted to win more games this year.”
It’s understandable why East Union was so confident coming into the season.
Seven seniors returned, including All-VOL first-team setter Parmbir Khattra and second-team middle blocker Alec Alegre — both third-year players with the program. Second-team selection Austin Scott is also a senior. The Lancers also have standout juniors in reigning All-VOL Most Outstanding Player Flavio Mercado and first-team outside hitter Jonathan Castañeda.
East Union was looking forward to continuing its progression. In 2018, the Lancers finished as runners-up to rival Manteca in league with a 7-3 record (8-8 overall). Last year, they went 7-1 and 12-4 overall. They qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs in back-to-back years but were denied their first postseason victory.
“We were going for the VOL title again, no doubt in my mind,” Alegre said. “I honestly thought we could have gone all the way and won sections. We were just coming together and then the virus hit. That was kind of a letdown.”
Coach Herrera recruited both Alegre and Khattra during their sophomore years. Khattra, who had previous volleyball experience playing for Neil Hafley School, was immediately inserted as the starting setter.
By the end of his junior year, Khattra was one of the top players in the VOL. He nearly did not come out for the team this season, as he wanted to focus on basketball. Khattra, a sharpshooting guard, was named to the All-VOL basketball second team this past winter.
“Many of my teammates kept reaching out to me, saying ‘Come on, we need you,’” Khattra said. “Even some of the teachers were telling me to play. That was happening almost every day. I just thought, “You know what? Why not? I won’t get this chance back and who knows when I’ll play volleyball again.’”
As it turns out, Khattra has the option to continue playing the sport. While basketball remains his sport of choice for the next level, he said that college volleyball coaches have unexpectedly reached out to him.
East Union won four of its six matches in this truncated season. Its final contest was a three-game loss at Lathrop, the defending Western Athletic Conference champion that also had big aspirations for 2020.
For players like Alegre and Vasquez, that is the last competitive contest they’ll ever be part of, but they’re proud to end their athletic careers with this team.
“I 100 percent grew as a person with that team and became who I am now because of the coaching from Mr. (Chris) Barnes and Mrs. Herrera,” Alegre said. They were excellent mentors who showed me how to be a leader. It was a great experience. I can’t recommend the volleyball program enough.”