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Miners chasing playoff berth in second season

At first glance, the Sunrise Mountain girls volleyball team posting a 10-8 overall record isn’t impressive.
But it’s 10 more wins than the Miners had at this time a year ago.
After an 0-22 inaugural season, Sunrise Mountain — 6-3 in the Northeast League — is on pace to capture the school’s first playoff berth in a team sport.
“We set a goal at the beginning of the year … that we were going to come back this year and prove everybody wrong,” junior Lenny Estrada said. “Just because we’re a new school doesn’t mean we can’t be good. We came back, practiced hard and we tried really hard. Our goal’s coming true, and we’re winning our games.”
Sunrise Mountain, with no seniors on the first-year school’s campus last season, won only one set in 2009. By the end of the year, though, coach Albert Ronquillo saw signs that his team was becoming more competitive, and the Miners fed on that competitive spirit during summer conditioning.
“The girls decided in the summer that they wanted to be successful, and they were there — committed and working hard,” said Ronquillo, who also coached for four years at Del Sol. “We played some good teams last year that gave the girls experience. For most of them, last year was their first year playing volleyball.
“This year, we’re starting to put a little bit together. They’re working hard, but they’re having fun. That’s the biggest thing.”
Sunrise Mountain started the season by going 3-2 at the Warrior Classic at Western, and that early success combined with a successful home jamboree to set the tone for the Miners.
“The girls at that point realized that they have the skills to win some games,” Ronquillo said. “And then they started putting that expectation on themselves. That confidence they gained early in the year was huge for them. I was hoping to get a couple of victories early, so they could see what it feels like.”
Last year’s lack of success fueled Sunrise Mountain’s hunger for this season. And that hunger intensified during offseason workouts and intramurals.
“We knew we had to come out this year even harder, push ourselves even harder, have more intensity and talk to each other, communicate better. Last year, we didn’t have none of that,” said junior co-captain Alicia Winchester, the team’s starting middle hitter.
“This year, we wanted to push ourselves, and we set goals for ourselves and our team.
“Our goal was just to win. Even if it was just one game, we wanted to win.”
The Miners have relied on a few standout performances from new faces in new positions. Estrada, who played two seasons for Eldorado, averages eight kills and three aces per match.
Junior Tiara Veal has taken over at setter after playing outside hitter on last year’s varsity squad and on Rancho’s freshman team. She said team chemistry has played a major role in the Miners’ turnaround.
“Last year, we didn’t have much experience and there was no chemistry between us,” said Veal, who averages 19 assists and two aces. “This year, we can feed off each other’s energy. When one person is up, everybody’s up; when one person is down, we’re all down. We’re like sisters. One person affects the whole team.”
Estrada said she felt the team’s chemistry almost instantly after coming aboard during the summer.
“I’m very social, so it wasn’t that difficult” adapting to a new team, she said. “But the girls helped out a lot. They took me in, accepted me and made me feel welcome. At the first intramural, I didn’t talk to the girls, and they came to me (and said), ‘Oh, hi, you’re new. What’s up?’ I just started talking to them, and by the third practice, I felt part of the team.
“The girls welcomed me like I was part of the team before.”
Ronquillo hopes that camaraderie can build through the next few years on a team that has only one senior and three sophomores.
“Hopefully, these girls are starting to understand what it feels like to win and they expect to win when they step on the court,” he said. “They’ve gained some experience and done some things they never realized they are capable of doing. And they’re having fun doing it.”

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