by Stephen Morales (@grecomeco23)
We continue our Ask A Husky series - where we catch up with various athletes from around our Huskies Family - with women's volleyball. We catch up with three returning athletes that Coach Elliot "Doc" Walker believes will be the leaders when volleyball resumes in 2021. Our young athletes today will be Zasha Hayes, Nikky Sotelo and Katherine Chiquini.
A Quick Intro
Before we get to the Q & A, let's briefly introduce each player:
The 5'9 Middle Blocker from Golden Valley High School in Bakersfield had a solid freshman campaign for the Huskies totaling 38 kills, 11 digs, and 20 total blocks, with a season high 8 kills against Cerro Coso. It is no wonder Coach Walker is looking to Zasha to take on a larger role in the coming season.
The 5'7 Outside Hitter from Bell High School in Bell Gardens missed her freshman campaign with a torn ACL and meniscus in her right knee. Just as she looks forward to getting back on the court, Coach Walker looks forward to Nikky stepping into the role of a team leader.
The 5'7 Outside Hitter from Cantwell Sacred Heart High School contributed a great deal in 2019. She totaled 28 kills, 5 aces, and 38 digs. Her breakout game came against Cerritos College totaling 8 kills, and 3 aces. With several solid freshman performances, Coach Walker will put his trust in Katherine to be a leader in the new season.
Q & A Time
And now to see what they've been up to during the COVID-19 shutdown and what is she looking forward to ahead.
SM: How has the COVID 19 shutdown affected you as a student athlete?
ZH: As a student-athlete, I am responsible for putting my education first; I am a student before I am an athlete. Covid-19 has put a damper on my studies, seeing as courses are now online. I suppose anybody would think this was a good thing, but I'm not as great a learner online than when I'm on campus - I'm a visual learner. As an athlete, the main change is the lack of an official season and an actual court to play on.
NS: COVID-19 has affected me by taking away my focusing on volleyball training, and [being] able to condition more to be ready for this season. During the offseason. I would keep myself physically active - [and] still do. But many of my resources such as gyms, open gym, and offspring practices were taken away due to the pandemic. It's kept myself away [from] what I've been training for. However some of the classes I took for spring semester had me in great shape, such as swim and spin class, so I could be physically and mentally ready for season.
KC: Since COVID began and we had to switch to online classes, it has definitely been a big change. Now I have to study at home and train at home as well. I was already used to being at school all the time for school and volleyball, but now I am home all day.
SM: What would you normally be doing right now to prepare for the upcoming season?
ZH: Normally for the season, the team would be at ELAC, on the court practicing rotations and plays. We'd also be conditioning, but now we have workout plans to do while in quarantine. Usually, the workouts are done on a Zoom call.
NS: Normally besides having practices days, I would do lots of tournaments. Not only for fun, but for the benefit of getting better on my defense and offense. I'm working out mainly [to] focus to get faster for the upcoming season (and to build up more muscle strength). Coach has been teaching me new workouts and giving me advice. I condition with lots of cardio because Coach Walker kills us with [running] miles when we are working out as a team. Also, I would go to many open gyms (such on Thursdays at ELAC at 8pm) where people that know how to play go for fun - to benefit from some friendly competition.
KC: I would normally be training with my teammates, getting ready physically and mentally.
SM: What do you think of the group of incoming freshman recruits you will have joining you on the team this upcoming season?
ZH: I can't say much about the recruits' work ethic as a teammate and player [yet]. We haven't gotten the chance to play together so, I won't say anything concerning their skills. What I do know is that the girls I've met via Zoom are hard-working and persistent. I can't wait to see if that attitude will be the same on the court.
NS: I was able to see some films of their highlights. Especially talking to Coaches Walker and Irene, they told me what types of teammates are playing for this year's team. I've had the chance to meet the new freshmen, and I can feel the same energy. I feel positive for this year, and I know the girls are ready to play as soon as we come back together. Also, I've asked so many questions to Coach Walker. The coaches have always told me this year is different - these girls are ready to play and work hard!
KC: I have only met my teammates in person one time before COVID started and they are all very nice. I have got[ten] to know most of them now because we have had a couple [of] Zoom meetings, and they seem really excited for this coming season. I am really happy about that.
SM: Looking back on last season, what were your overall thoughts and what do you take away from it?
ZH: Last season was a doozy. I expected the extra work I had to put in compared to high school and club. It definitely was not what I expected when joining the team concerning the games we won compared to the games we lost. I don't want a repeat of last season. For me, this means less carefree fun and more work; a greater drive to win.
KC: Last season, being my first year playing collegiately, was a great learning experience. I came in very nervous at first, but all my teammates were very welcoming and we all had good chemistry. Our season had some rough patches, but we got through it by pushing through and not giving up. We didn't go as far as we would have liked, but it makes a point for the sophomores as well as the incoming freshman that we need to work harder. What I took away from last season is that we all need to have a goal in mind to succeed.
SM: Describe your position, responsibilities and role on the team.
ZH: My position on the team is the Middle Blocker. The role of the MB is to block any hits, tips, and rolls from the opposing team. Blocking is the first defense of the game. In addition to that, MB's also do quick plays and spikes.
NS: My position is a outside hitter and playing defense as well when switching off rotation. On offense, my responsibility is to always put the ball down, playing smart, hitting different spots of the court. Outside hitters are the ones always getting all types of sets: as Coach Walker says, "we are the trash collectors". We also look at what moves the setter is about to do, to determine if she going to dump the ball or what hitter is she's going to set (prepare for a kill attempt). In defense, it's important to always try to touch the ball no matter what. We switch up our defense depending on the opponent.
KC: My position on the team is a hitter and it comes with a lot of responsibilities. Being a hitter, you are given the opportunity to finish the game point with a kill. You need to strategize and visualize the court. My role as a player on the team is to encourage the team to never give up by having a good mindset.
SM: Coach Walker mentioned you as a leader of this year's team. What does that mean to you? What lessons have you learned from last year and how do you think that will help you be the team leader that Coach is expecting?
ZH: Being a leader for ELAC's volleyball team means assisting others when they need help and keeping the team focused. It also means that I'm not just a sophomore that knows more, but that I'm also a part of the team and I am learning new skills along with them. Last season, I learned that I need to be willing to take the time and initiative to focus during both practice and games. As Coach Walker says, "What you do in practice is what you do in a game."
NS: During my first year playing for ELAC, Coach Walker made me a co-captain [along] with one of the sophomores. But I did not have the chance to finish my full season due to injury. This time around, I'm more confident in that I'll be able to have the opportunity to lead. Being a captain gives me a bit of pressure because I have to always be on myself to help my teammates do their part on the court, be positive, and hold myself accountable. I've known Coach Walker since I was a freshman in high school, and he taught me everything that I know to be able to lead and be the aggressive player. I know what he is expecting from [me] this year; he is a very competitive coach that [molded me into] a very competitive athlete over the years.
KC: I am honored that Coach Walker mentioned me as a leader for this year's team. It means a lot to show him and the team that I can be someone to rely on and help my teammates throughout the season. To be a leader [means] not giving orders, but to take opinions from my teammates and taking everything into consideration. The main goal and focus are to push the team forward to be better. I need to have a positive mindset in order to be the balance of the team.
It is clear to see why Coach Walker selected these three athletes as his leaders for the new season. He believes that Zasha, Nikky, and Katherine will do terrific jobs in those roles. We look forward to seeing them and their teammates back on the court, along with plenty of aces, spikes, and digs in the new season!
Volleyball preseason officially begins on January 18, 2021. Regular season games to begin on February 5.