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Experienced Sierra gunning for program’s 1st league title
Sierra girls volleyball
Becca Thomson sets the ball in an intrasquad scrimmage at Sierra on Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Kim Ellis pointed to a blank banner hanging on a wall at Sierra High’s gym, where many of the school’s athletic achievements are chronicled.

In the near 30 years of the school’s existence, however, the varsity girls volleyball team has yet to earn a Valley Oak League championship. The 2022 squad may be the program’s best shot at doing it.

“We want to be that team that wins the first one,” the Timberwolves’ second-year coach said. “They want to leave a legacy.”

Sierra is coming off an 8-8 campaign in which it reached the postseason for the first time since 2010. The T’wolves were swept by powerhouse Christian Brothers, the Division III No. 2 seed, in the opening round but return every player.

“We’re definitely hungry,” Ellis said. “We have very high goals. Most of the team plays club year-round. Everybody is a returning varsity player except for one, who is a sophomore. Everybody came out much stronger than they ended last year.”

Among the many returners are Jenna Dalen and Rebecca Thomson, who served as junior captains last year. Thomson is a fourth-year starter at setter and an All-Valley Oak League first-team selection.

The 2021 team featured six sophomores led by outside hitter Zoe Kossart, who earned all-league honorable mention. Six-foot twins Alexandra and Abigail Chapman, defensive specialist Karlie Burns, outside hitter Sophia Marian and opposite Elise Vaifale are the other second-year juniors.

Middle blockers Amelia Hernandez and Elaina Threet and defensive specialists Ciara Jene Castro and Ashley Caliwag are returning seniors. Sophia Threet is the lone underclassman on the lineup of grizzled veterans.

“My sophomore year, all the of the freshmen, who are now juniors, came in and we were a very young team with very few players,” Thomson said. “We’ve built this program, and all of the levels are doing amazing. I just know that this program will keep building. We’ve improved so much.”

Thomson added that despite the skill, depth and experience at every spot on the court, the team camaraderie might be its greatest strength.

“Our team gets along so well,” she said. “I think we play very good volleyball together, but we’re also best friends off the court, which makes it 10 times more fun.”

Ellis has packed Sierra’s non-league schedule with more opponents and stronger competition. Its first match is a Foundation Game at Lathrop on Aug. 22. The Timberwolves have entered the Stockton Clasic Kickoff and Stockton Classic Tournament.

SJS Division VI champion Big Valley Christian (27-12) and Central California Athletic League champion Pitman (21-11) are included in Sierra’s revamped schedule.

The Timberwolves should be properly tested before their challenging opening stretch in VOL play. They travel to perennial contender Oakdale on Sept. 15 and host co-champions Central Catholic (Sept. 20) and Manteca (Sept. 22) the following week.

“Our preseason schedule is very competitive this year — we definitely raised the bar,” Ellis said. “We’re excited for the season.”