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Lathrop replenishes all-conference talent with JV champs
Lathrop girls volleyball
Lathrop coach Toa Fa’ali’i lobs balls at his players during a defensive drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Lathrop has established itself as one of the top teams in the Western Athletic Conference the past three seasons, and second-year coach Toa Fa’ali’i believes the Spartans can still remain competitive despite their most recent roster turnover.

Lathrop girls volleyball
Irais Martinez, reacts for the dig while Azul Maldonado gets ready. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
They’ve lost seven players to graduation, six of whom made the All-Western Athletic Conference team. The senior-heavy group from last year finished as runner-up to Beyer in the WAC with a 9-3 record and 14-7 overall. They were eliminated by Valley Oak League co-champion Central Catholic in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

“It’s almost a brand-new team, but I think these girls are hungry,” he said. “Our first scrimmage is (today against East Union) and we’re excited to see where we stand.”

The 2022 Spartans will lack the size of their predecessors, who included All-WAC first-team selection Sydney Hanks and second-team pick LaNicia Ellis. Both were middle blockers.

“We’re small, but we’ll be a scrappy team with a defensive mentality,” Fa’ali’i said. “We do extra work on defense this year because I know we don’t have that height.

Celeste Narvarez is among the players All-WAC first-team libero Krystle Sakay. Outside hitters Elizabeth Andrade and Janessa Ward and Narvarez were part of Lathrop’s undefeated junior varsity team last year. Andrade is coming up as a sophomore, as is middle blocker Sara Valadez.

Setter Camila De La Garza Garcia is the lone returner with starting experience. Senior outside hitters Alaba

Lathrop girls volleyball
Alejandra Vazquez gets in position to make the pass as Celeste Narvarez, from left, Irais Martinez, Alaba Olaleye, Liliana Navarro wait their turn in line. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin
Olaleye and Azul Maldonado also add some experience. Lathrop has six seniors in all. Fa’ali’i knows his seniors well, having led them as freshman coach in 2019.

The Spartans scrimmage Manteca on Aug. 18 and plays a Foundation Game at Sierra on Aug. 22. They start for real Aug. 23 at home against Franklin. Their WAC schedule begins Sept. 1 at Ceres.

“The goal is to be No. 1 in the (WAC), but we’ll take it one step at a time,’” Fa’ali’i said. “I’m confident in my team. We’ll see what happens.”