v 10 blocks

Jesus Gomez, left, gets the block against Madera.

Sanger’s volleyball Apaches make winning look easy when they battle teams that don’t quite measure up to their skill level.

Such was the case March 21 at the Coach Dean Nicholson Gym at Sanger High when Sanger faced Madera’s Coyotes. The result was three sets in the win column. 

But there’s a downside. As good as Sanger is — the team had a 19-7 overall record and a national ranking of 50th, according to MaxPreps.com as of this week — reaching the level of an elite team requires something extra.

That killer instinct. 

“Instead of taking it to them every time, we should destroy every team in league and destroy them in the playoffs,” said assistant coach Marcos Mireles after the game.

Mireles meant it in the nicest way. Really. The specific criticism of the Apaches against the Coyotes had to do with occasional lapses and their first set in the match, a 25-18 win. The Apaches allowed just a little too much offense. “That wasn’t even their best,” he said as the athletes left the court.

They’re nice guys. Grant Harrison, John Her, Aaron Ly, Gohan Thao, Kennedy Navo, Adrian Mercado, Brennan Taylor, Aidyn Jalao, Jesus Gomez, Madhav Singh, Ethan Ly, Jose Duran, Britton Navo and Luis Villegas are the types to volunteer immediately if your car’s stuck in the snow and needs a push (I’m using an Alaska analogy) or an old person needs help across the street.

But nice doesn’t cut it when taking on some of the top teams the Apaches have in tournaments. For instance, this past weekend Sanger lost a match to Monte Vista in Cupertino. The Matadors are ranked No. 34 nationally. But the Apaches beat all other competition over the weekend for four wins.

“It’s just efficiency,” said coach Scott Okada after the Madera game. “We weren’t real clean. You don’t want to build up habits.” 

He advised in a diplomatic way to use every opportunity to play clean “for an entire set. We’ve got to find that balance.”

And finding that balance isn’t easy. The Clovis teams traditionally have been tough. The Apaches lost to Clovis North but beat Clovis West twice. The team split with Clovis East.

Yet, this group of Apaches believes they have that something. Even if they’re nice. Former Apache and now UC Merced Bobcat Jose Gomez certainly provides an example, leading his team in kills and ranking the nation’s top 40 in kills and hitting percentage.

“We just learned how to come together as one unit and pick each other up when we’re down,” Jalao said. “Despite being down, we’ll always have each other’s backs. For sure.”

Aaron Ly explained that a little. “We’re well rounded,” he said. “We have chemistry. We play for each other.”

And as for his feelings about his teammates, he said, “Love ‘em. All of them are great. All of them have potential.”

Jesus Gomez wore icepacks on both knees. “Jumper’s knees,” he said. Gomez, a dominant force at the net, said his team can challenge the elites and win. “But we still have a lot to improve on,” he said. “As a team, we still have a lot to grow.”

On emotional ups and downs, which are the bane of a team looking to dominate consistently, Gomez said the team does a good job moderating peaks and valleys. “We just seem to move on,” he said. “We feel pretty comfortable.”

And Okada said the team is healthy again, “kind of. We’re headed back in the right direction.”

Her, the team’s primary setter, said he’s a believer. “Once we focus in, know what we have to do, then we’ll start playing how the coaches (want),” he said.

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