By Pat Turner
Harlan may be new to varsity volleyball, but the Hawks are making a good first impression.
Despite no experience at this level and a starting lineup featuring three sophomores, two juniors and a freshman, the Hawks have grown quickly while springing to the top of District 28-5A with a 7-0 record. If coach Monica Gonzales has her way, more strides will be made.
“It’s been a good first year,” said Gonzales, whose squad also has four seniors. “We had a good offseason. We’re working hard. We have a very good chemistry.”
Harlan, 19-11 overall, has reached the top with steady play from several players. Ayanna Jackson (229 kills), Kiana Fallaha (153 kills) and Arissa Willis (94 kills) have provided a potent offensive punch. Juliana Arguijo (367 assists) and Jevani Hanspard (226 assists) are directing the attack efficiently. The Hawks are also making the grade defensively behind Alexa Gomez (303 digs) and Arissa Willis (226 digs).
Although the Hawks played a JV schedule with a few varsity opponents in the mix, it was a good time for the players to come together. For the most part, none of them had ever been on the court together since they came from different schools.
Being in a new environment was challenging, but the players a bond developed.
“It was a little different at first,” Jackson said. “We were different ages and all shy. We had never played together. But we spent a lot of time together and started getting closer. We got a lot of stuff together and started growing a team together.”
Now, they look like they have worked together for a long time.
“It’s been fun” Fallaha said. “Going through a JV schedule helped us. We got comfortable with each other. We got comfortable with our coaches and they got comfortable with us.”
Making a comfortable situation was Gonzales’ top priority. She came to Harlan with top-notch credentials where she took over Brennan’s program when the Bears made the jump from Class 5A to 6A. Prior to a successful run with the Bears, Gonzales served as an assistant coach for nine years at Reagan under Mike Carter.
Being associated with one of the top volleyball programs in the state was the ideal grooming period.
“Mike and I are really good friends,” Gonzales said. “I learned so much there. It really prepared me to be a head coach. At Brennan, it helped me establish goals and expectations. That’s what I am trying to do here. “
What are the expectations?
“My expectations are always high,” Gonzales said. “We hold the players accountable. They know it’s our way and there’s no other way. We developed that last year. It helped us get ready for this year. They’re bringing a lot of energy.”
That dose of energy has shown throughout district play.
The Hawks went through a few growing pains during a highly-competitive non-district schedule. Although the record wasn’t flashy, Gonzales saw progress.
Now, it’s showing when it counts the most, especially the past two weeks. The Hawks got their first major league test on a road trip to Medina Valley where they overcame a 1-0 deficit to pull out a 3-1 victory.
This past Friday, Harlan was put to the test again in a 3-2 thriller over Southwest.
“Those matches were huge,” Gonzales said. “We started off a little slow, but the girls stayed cool. I think it helped to play a tough non-district schedule. It prepared us for matches like that. It’s exciting, but we need to stay grounded and humble. Now, we have a bigger target on our backs.”
The Hawks are eager to meet the upcoming challenges.
“It was fun (playing at Medina Valley, Southwest),” Jackson said. “It was really loud. We loved the competition. We’re excited about competing. We have to keep working and stick to the plan.”
Whatever happens, the Hawks also know being part of a first-year program gives them the opportunity to make history. They hope to make it memorable.