It’s no secret that Salpointe Catholic has one of the top volleyball teams in the state across all levels. As both the 2020 4A Indoor Volleyball Champions and the 2021 D-II Beach Volleyball Champions, last year’s achievements brought a much needed bright light to an otherwise mundane school year due to the pandemic. With athletic schedules looking to be more normalized for this year and a reinvigorating summer, the Lancers are pumped to get back on the court.
“The vibe is really good. Everyone is super excited to be back and get going,” head coach Heather Moore-Martin said, with an excitement in her voice.
Under Moore-Martin, the Lancers built a powerhouse. In her time, she’s accrued an outstanding record of 222-60 and helped the program turn a corner. Since the school’s opening in 1950, the Lancer’s only made it to the finals once prior to her arrival, finishing as the runner-ups in 1970. Since her hiring in 2013, the Lancers have made it to the playoffs for indoor volleyball seven out of her eight seasons at the helm, including four state championship appearances and three titles (2016, 2017, 2020).
As the reigning state champs for both indoor and beach, there will be high expectations when the Lancers return to the court. It’s something Moore-Martin has already discussed with her team as they’ve been grinding away throughout the entire summer.
“We have a target on our back for sure. That comes even without state. We’ve got a bigger target this year because we did do so well, but whenever anybody plays Salpointe they bring their best game because we’re kind of perennial around Tucson, and that’s athletics in general not just volleyball. They know they’ve got their work cut out for them and everybody seems to bring their A-game,” Moore-Martin said.
Despite losing four instrumental seniors in Bianca DeVitis, Brandy Kishbaugh, Sophia Peña and Andrea Owens, the Lancers still have a strong and experienced returning group. Led by six seniors, which is a large number but not unheard of, Moore-Martin says there’s chemistry factors with this group that set them apart from all the others.
“This year we have six seniors, which is such a huge amount of girls, but I’m so happy with this group of seniors. Not only are they great leaders, but we connect, you know? I feel like they’re engaged with me, I know what they’re saying and they understand me, which is different. I’ve had six seniors before, but not all of us connected,” Moore-Martin said.
It’s still fairly early into the season as rosters have only recently been finalized with after-school practices getting underway, so each individual’s distinct role on the team is still being worked out. Even so, Moore-Martin says four of the team’s six seniors already have taken the reins in terms of figuring out where they’re needed and stepping up.
“I think some people have really shown themselves as wanting to take over a leadership position. I think Annika Arvayo, she’s a senior, she just does a nice job of being a leader for us without even being told,” Moore-Martin said.
When it comes to in-game action by the net, Moore-Martin is counting on her two senior Middles to get the job done.
“I always expect a lot out of my middles, and one middle is Leah Palomares, and I’m super excited about having her play and do a lot out of the middle, because she’s been a middle for us all her years, and our other middle is Meena Moore, who converted. She went from an outside to a middle,” Moore-Martin said.
Palomares believes her aggressiveness is what helps her ability to be such a great defender, and anticipates that being a strong point of their team this season.
“I just go for everything, even if I’m not in the right spot, I just know someone’s gotta get the ball at some point so don’t be scared and get it,” Palomares said.
And finally, a majority of the defensive expectations will fall on libero Jalynn Ransom, a four-year varsity player. With anticipation of playing at the next level, Ransom is looking to have a big year.
“Ransom is our libero, so I expect a lot out of her in that position. All her years up until now, she’s had to sit behind other liberos and defensive specialists, so she’s definitely learned her lessons and now she’s gotta put it to work,” Moore-Martin said.
While the team is senior strong, Moore-Martin said people still need to keep an eye out for a number of other underclassmen on the squad who can still do a lot of damage. Junior Outside Hitter and Defensive Specialist Rylen Bourguet helps bring the competitive spirit to everything she does. A multisport athlete, she also helped the Lancers take home the 4A State Championship title for soccer last winter, making her one of the incredibly few athletes in recent Arizona history to achieve this goal.
“Rylen is just kind of a steady competitor, and I think she gets a lot of that from soccer. There’s just that steadiness and her vision is so excellent and I think it’s because the soccer field is so huge and she comes in here and it’s just a little court, so she sees better than probably any of us,” Moore-Martin said.
Sophomore Megan Muehlebach, an Outside Hitter for the Lancers, not only has a significant impact on the team because of her skill level, but also due to her high morale.
“She always brings great energy and great enthusiasm. I never have to worry about if she’s having a good day or not, because she has a really consistent attitude which I totally appreciate,” Moore-Martin said.
Rounding out some of the stellar underclassmen Coach mentioned was freshman Outside and Opposite Hitter Fiona Rucker.
“That’s pretty unusual. I don’t always take freshmen, but I do when they’re exceptional. And she’s exceptional,” Moore-Martin said.
There’s always something that programs can do to keep pushing the athletes to improve, which is why Salpointe recently brought on strength and conditioning guru coach Carla Garrett to work full time with all the athletes on campus. Garrett is no stranger to the Lancer family, as she’s deeply entrenched in much of their success in the last two decades, especially with football.
“I’m extremely excited. I love Carla. She’s close with my family and she worked out my brother, Lathan Ransom, who is out in Ohio, so I’m extremely excited and it already shows a lot with our team right now just practicing, so I’m excited to continue working with her and I know she’s gonna do a lot for us this season,” Ransom said.
Garrett has only recently started working with the volleyball program to elevate their level of play and improve strength and dexterity. Not only will this new training help prevent injuries, it’s also already made a noticeable difference in their ability to perform.
“As individuals, we spent some time with Carla during club volleyball and I can tell you what, they’re just so much stronger. Physically stronger. They can do things overhead that they used to struggle with, and they can just do it with ease now,” Moore-Martin said.
Salpointe opens up the 2021 season on the road Wed, Sept. 1 at Catalina Foothills. One of the team’s most highly anticipated games comes as the final of the season when they host last year’s state runner-ups, the Notre Dame Prep Saints, on Oct. 25.
“It’s gonna be really competitive, and it’s gonna be a really tough dog fight like the state championship was,” Palomares said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07