Alister Borabo, when she was 13, made a major life decision to go from tiny dancer to big hitter.
Judging by her performance in Mercy-Burlingame’s Central Coast Section Division IV volleyball opener Saturday night at Terra Nova, the senior outside hitter made the right choice.
Growing up studying dance, ranging from ballet to hula, Borabo walked away from that world in eighth-grade, citing her unwillingness to learn how to do the splits as the reason why — “I just don’t bend that way,” she said — and, so, the restless middle-schooler needed something to do with her time.
“I tried basketball and didn’t love it,” Borabo said. “So my dad put me in a two-week training camp for volleyball and I ended up loving it.”
Borabo, the Daily Journal Athlete of the Week, is now at the top of her game. And, wow, is she peaking at the right time.
Saturday, her Mercy-Burlingame Crusaders were facing season-ending elimination from the CCS tournament, dropping the opening two sets on the road at Terra Nova. Then Borabo took over, firing 15 of her 25 match kills over the final three sets to lead Mercy to a torrid 18-25, 22-25, 25-8, 25-18, 15-6 comeback victory.
“Her offense was the best it’s been all year tonight,” Mercy head coach Chris Balestrieri said following the match.
The elegance and fluidity of Borabo’s play lend to plenty of comparisons to her background as a former ballerina. But the execution of her deftly varied shot selection is pure athleticism.
In Game 3, as Mercy went on an early 13-1 run, Borabo exploited the sideline with thunderous shots off the left side. When she upped the lead to 20-5 on a textbook roll shot, though, it became clear Terra Nova — already in fits trying to contend with her straightforward attacks — was in trouble.
To open Game 4, Terra Nova’s defense threw everything it had at Borabo. She effectively tooled the double block. But the Tigers’ undersized attackers Ari Herrera and Shirley Morrison fought back. Borabo scored on several adept cross-shots, but Herrera did some trajectory hunting of her own, tying it 13-13 by placing a long bomb on the backline.
After Terra Nova missed wide to give Mercy a 14-13 edge, Borabo stepped to the service line and promptly scored one of her three match aces. It was the start of a 5-1 landslide from which the Tigers never recovered.
“I personally didn’t think we were able to push (early on),” Borabo said. “But we believed in each other and soon enough we were able to beat them.”
For Borabo, much of that belief comes in her connection with setter Becky Roos. The junior has teamed with Borabo for three years on the Mercy varsity squad, and the two also have history on the club circuit playing for Beach Vibes Volleyball Club out of Daly City.
“So we do have a special connection,” Borabo said.
Roos went for 51 kills, and showed off an arsenal of attackers through Game 4. Not only did five different Crusaders score in the set, each of them scored multiple kills, with junior Katie Adams totaling three, while junior Ciara Finecane, junior Malayah Hernandez and senior Angel Letele scored two apiece in the set.
It was Borabo who forced set point, though, taking a page out of Herrera’s book from just minutes earlier by picking off the backline with a soaring shot over the Terra Nova block. Then senior libero Allison Remulla finished off Game 4 with a service ace.
Borabo kept the momentum rolling into the decisive final set, scoring a kill right out of the gate. She’d go on to force match point with an absolute bomb on a cross-shot off the left side. An ace by senior Clarissa Baldocchi closed out the victory, marking the third straight season Mercy has won its CCS opener.
“After this game I see we have the drive to win,” Borabo said. “We’ll see what’s what going forward.”
Borabo’s all-around excellence may have plenty to say about that. Not only did she fire 25 match kills, she recorded a .488 hitting percentage and also went for a double-double with 18 digs.
Yep, pure athleticism. More than that, while she may have left the artistic world of dance behind her years ago, Borabo on the volleyball court is quite simply poetry in motion.