Nothing’s changed in the Westmoor volleyball world, except for the masks.
Otherwise, head coach Rex Mauga-Head — in his 19th season running Westmoor’s volleyball program — is the same robust fixture at the first chair along the bench, clipboard tactically in hand, backward baseball cap on his head.
Mauga-Head has been around long enough to know Westmoor is never going to have a prototypical slugging attack capable of racking up monster kill numbers. But fundamentally, the Lady Rams will always make a case for being one of the best little teams in the traditional Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division.
“Our practices are pretty boring,” Mauga-Head said. “When I tell them, we’re doing the basic stuff because it will translate to the game, they understand that. If you can’t get the serve over, there’s no play going. If you can’t get the serve receive over, there’s nothing being played. So, before we even get to the hitting and all that fun stuff, you’ve got to get through this. So, every single day, it’s just based on defensive drills and basic fundamentals.”
Of course, there is no PAL Ocean Division this year. All PAL teams actually fielding volleyball teams are playing in territorial divisions, due to COVID restrictions. The San Mateo Union High School District is only playing within its own ranks. The Sequoia Union High School District, plus Half Moon Bay High School, is doing the same.
The Jefferson Union High School District is merged with the South San Francisco Unified School District this season to form a five-school division. The volleyball league is down to three teams, however, with El Camino and Terra Nova opting out of the 2020-21 season. That leaves Westmoor, South City and Jefferson.
Just two matches into its season, Westmoor finished its first turn through the league Monday. The Rams hosted South City in their home opener, and promptly earned a 25-12, 25-8, 25-20 victory.
“It’s awesome seeing the kids back on the court,” Mauga-Head said. “I had no idea that this was going to happen. Fortunately, we’re playing and, of course, we only have one senior. So, we’re just trying to make it the best for her as well.”
Between both teams, there were just three seniors of the court. South City has two seniors, both club players, with Rianna Enriquez and Eliza Enriquez playing for the Ohlone Juniors Volleyball Club in Fremont. Otherwise, South City head coach Kareem Summerville has an inexperienced roster with many players still learning the sport.
“For me, it’s just teaching them the basics, making sure that they’re in the rotation,” Summerville said. “For me, I serve to them, or I’ll do down balls by standing on the table and just slamming it down and they can dig it out so they can be prepared when they see real varsity volleyball.”
Staying in rotation proved difficult Monday in the opening set. The match was South City’s season opener, and there were several play stoppages between points as the Lady Warriors were guided by the lead referee as to how to properly line up on the court.
The Warriors had some bright moments though. Junior outside hitter Uriel Capistrano produced the defensive highlight of the match during Game 2, diving in for a legit pancake dig to keep a rally going. Unfortunately, her teammates couldn’t pick up the ball to concede the point to Westmoor.
“I think that as a team, we can really work together,” said Melody Alapait, a sophomore middle blocker who led the Warriors with five kills and two aces. “And we have that in practice. Since it’s our first game, we’re all nervous. But I know coming in next game we’re going to be ready to fight.”
Despite South City’s opening-day jitters and lack of tempo, Westmoor stayed on point and was able to flip on the switch during the match’s intermittent prolonged rallies.
Once again, there aren’t any prototypical attackers dominating the Westmoor side of the net. Junior Megan Lao and sophomore Melanie Chen paced the Rams with five kills apiece. Juniors Hazel Vinluan and Keyahna Lopez had four each. But the defense was consistently on point.
“We’re just always aware,” Lopez said. “We know where the ball is and how to get contact with it. We can tell if it’s a free, if they angle their hands at a certain position, or if it’s a roll shot. We just know the signals.”
And then there’s the serving expertise. Westmoor relied on South City mistakes to earn many points. The Warriors committed 34 unforced errors throughout, including 28 field errors. But the Rams kept them out of rhythm with clutch service looks, totaling 17 match aces. Lopez led the way with five aces.
“I take it very seriously, honestly,” Lopez said of her signature deep serve. “Because that’s easy points.”
There is one other key difference for Westmoor this year, and it is Mauga-Head’s haircut. Traditionally, the Rams’ head coach has worn shoulder-length cornrows. This season, however, he has shaved his head bald.
The reason for this is Mauga-Head’s mother, Fuaa’e, died in February after a battle with breast cancer at age 65. Although Mauga-Head has coached at Westmoor for nearly two decades, he said last year was the first time his mother ever attended one of the team’s matches. It was on Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
Still, Mauga-Head is immersed in doing what he does best — taking an improbable group of young ladies and helping mold them into a scrappy and exciting volleyball team. Now, he’s just looking to get as many games played as possible with only two opponents available.
“It’s a hit or miss,” Mauga-Head said of the potential schedule. “Hopefully everybody stays healthy. It’s been a game a week so far.”