A year ago at the halfway point of the Desert Valley League volleyball season, it appeared, and turned out to be true, that there was one clear dominant team. Through six matches, the Palm Desert Aztecs swept them all, dropping just a single set, to Xavier Prep. With Palm Springs in second (5-1), La Quinta in third (4-2) and Xavier Prep in fourth (3-3), the rest of the teams would have to wait for the Aztecs to falter in hopes of having a shot at a league title. Even though the Aztecs lost their second match to Xavier Prep, the squad managed to win the DVL with a two match cushion at 11-1.
This year, instead of a slew of teams chasing one, we’ve got a cluster at the top. Palm Desert, La Quinta and Shadow Hills all stand at 5-1 after the trio each beat one of the others – Palm Desert over Shadow Hills, the Knights over La Quinta and the Blackhawks over the Aztecs.
Thursday, the second round of DVL play begins, but on Wednesday, The Desert Sun caught up with the coaches of the three powerhouses to get their take on their own team’s performance thus far as well as who they think will be the toughest opponent to overcome on their route to hopefully clinching the DVL crown.
The Desert Sun: Who has been the best player on your own team thus far?
Melissa Walker, Shadow Hills: Trinity Castaneda. I just think she’s the powerhouse and has been doing amazing, and she’s making it difficult for other teams to defend us.
Becca Willis, Palm Desert: Danielle Boss has really stepped up. She’s always right there as one of my leading kills and assists girls, and she’s a top defensive player and a great server.
Ronda Sommaripa, La Quinta: Baylie Dashner has been amazing. She’s really stepped up on outside hitting, for sure. Jolie Samuelson always leads the way, and she’s a driving force with us, but Baylie has definitely stood out and improved tremendously.
TDS: Who’s been the best player you’ve faced in the DVL?
SH: Jolie Samuelson. She’s really leading her team well and is definitely someone who’s keeping it competitive for La Quinta.
PD: Jolie Samuelson. She’s the one that gave us the most trouble thus far, and she has a lethal weapon for an arm. She leads them emotionally and is a tough all-around kid.
LQ: Serena Stockton (Palm Desert libero). She’s really good, and I’d say she’s the backbone of their team for sure.
TDS: What team in the DVL has surprised you the most?
SH: Palm Springs. Their defense is so good, and they’re so young and it’s exciting to see that. … They’ve done a great job having younger girls step up and be super aggressive. They’re not going into any game light.
PD: Palm Springs. They surprised me more than anyone. They play incredibly scrappy, and against us the Wright sisters really did a lot of work.
LQ: Shadow Hills. They really surprised us, and not just because we lost to them. … And I think we really surprised Palm Desert. It was different because we’ve never played them first, so that was kind of cool. It was to our advantage, ’cause we knew we were just going to play volleyball today and see what happens.
TDS: What has been the biggest strength and biggest weakness for your team thus far this season?
SH: We’re very close. All our players seem to stay strong and compete together, and that’s something we all have in common. Sometimes, though, we haven’t come out strong at the beginning. We’ve had a lot of games that have gone five sets, and we came out weak and got strong at the end.
PD: Offensively, we have a lot of weapons, and that’s big for us. Defensively, we do a really good job defending the ball, but we’ve struggled with first-ball-side-outing, and you can definitely see the matches where we have a lot of unforced errors, like La Quinta and the first set of the Shadow Hills match.
LQ: We’ve really come together as a team and don’t ever seem to turn on each other, but we need to work on eliminating our own mistakes. We do have the ability to come back when we’re behind, but we need to have less errors, especially in big strands.
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TDS: What’s the most crucial match for you coming down the stretch?
SH: I’d say against La Quinta. They just have a lot in common with us along with their coaching staff. They’re all very close and all really want it.
PD: La Quinta will be a huge match for us, but Shadow Hills and Xavier Prep will be big too. None of those teams are going to want to get walked over, and it’s going to depend on who the better team that day is, because they’re going to win.
LQ: Palm Desert. We’ve split with them several years, and they beat us last year twice. It’s huge. Tomorrow (Thursday) is definitely the big one.
TDS: Other than your own team, who do you feel like has the best shot at winning a DVL title?
SH: La Quinta. I know a lot of the girls on that team and know how much they want it, and the coaching staff is really strong over there. I think they have it going on over there.
PD: La Quinta. I think they have more experience and know what it takes to be tough night after night. They’ve been on the cusp of doing something great these last few years.
LQ: Palm Desert, no question. All around, we’ve really got our hands full with them tomorrow (Thursday).
Important remaining DVL volleyball matches
Palm Desert at La Quinta – Oct. 6
La Quinta at Shadow Hills – Oct. 11
Palm Desert at Shadow Hills – Oct. 19