Team spirit bumps girls volleyball team to new heights


Photo by Amanda Wannon

TEAMWORK: Firehawk volleyball players perform a team cheer ahead of their home game against Enviromental Charter on Sept. 25. Team members say communication is important, especially among players who call for the ball. Enthusiasm for the sport continues to grow as practice becomes more rigorous.

By Alex Rubel, Senior Editor and

Senior Ashley Botnick has played on the volleyball team for all four years of high school, and this year, she is one of the teams’ three captains.

But she wears a different color jersey from the rest of the team.

That’s because, for the first time in the team’s history, the team has a libero, a defensive player who plays only in the back row. Ashley is the libero, and to distinguish her position, she wears the opposite color jersey of her teammates.

“For the past few years we’ve tried to make it happen but it never did,” said Ashley, who is a co-captain along with her twin sister Zoey Botnick and fellow senior Avital Jacobson. “The coaches never got around to adding one, and because of that we never ordered a different color jersey.”

Last year, Ashley said, the team only wore red uniforms. Because they now have red away uniforms and white home uniforms this year, having a libero was made possible.

Having a libero — who is restricted to playing in the back row — allows the team to substitute players without compromising the defense.

“The libero can sub in with anyone in the back row,” Ashley said, “and those substitutions are not counted towards the amount allowed for the game.”

But it’s not just about having a libero. The volleyball team is becoming a lot more serious about improving, bonding, and ultimately, winning games.

This year, the team has experienced a flurry of interest from players who want to be a part of what they consider a “sisterhood.” Currently, the team has 22 players, and in volleyball, only six are on the court at a time.

Since last year, it has been led by Coach Angelica Castellanos, who also coaches the new boys volleyball team in the spring.

“The sisterhood and camaraderie is something we really push with the girls,” said Coach Castellanos, whom her players call Coach Jelly.

“There’s no seniority, there’s no hazing, there’s no nothing. I think that keeps girls interested.”

Her players agreed.

“It’s fun to be with my teammates and to experience the feeling of just being in the game,” said freshman Noa Talasazan.

Ashley said that the volleyball team has become a family

“The idea of having a team is something special,” said Ashley. “And having a team filled with people who aren’t necessarily only in your grade and getting to know other people — both underclassmen and upperclassmen — is really valuable.”


Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the girls volleyball team, how the sport works remains largely unknown to the rest of the student body.

Volleyball games are played as best-of-five, meaning that the first team to win three sets is victor of the game. A set is won when a team scores 25 points.

Six players are on the court at a time. Each player plays one of six positions: setter, outside hitter, right hitter, middle blocker, middle back, and left back. In addition, each team has one libero, a defensively-minded player restricted to the last row. The libero can replace any player as long as she’s positioned in the back row.

Each player on the court is part of the serve rotation. The players rotate before the serve at the beginning of each possession. If they win the point, the same player serves for the next play. If they lose a point, the ball goes to the opponent and the rotation moves clockwise once the team regains its serve.

A volleyball team cannot touch the ball more than three times on the same possession. Typically, volleyball players are taught to maximize the three hits by using a combination of bumping and setting to slow down an opponent’s hit, to the team’s setter who is tasked with preparing her team for a spike.

Height is advantageous for volleyball teams because it enables them to dominate the net with blocking or a spike.

The volleyball Firehawks play in the Mullholland league — as all Shalhevet athletic teams do — and primarily plays their league opponents.


Players seem to be responding positively to the increased rigor.

The team has 22 players, and in volleyball only six are on the court at a time.

“When you put in countless hours of work and see real results, it’s really rewarding,” said junior Sophie Handleman.

The team has practiced almost every day during the season. Junior Hannah Benji said that the extra commitment has made the team more cohesive.

“Compared to last year, we’ve all grown as a family and we’ve become sisters,” Hannah said. “It’s clear that it’s due to all the extra time that we’re putting in.”

Shalhevet Athletic Coordinator Coach Jeff Remer said that Coach Jelly’s dedication to the team appeals to the players — both new and returning.

“This year, we were practicing two weeks before school started,” said Coach Remer. “They were in the gym every single day for two and a half hours. I think the commitment to be more serious, the girls really appreciate that.”

In fact, interest has grown so much that Athletic Coordinator Coach Jeff Remer scrambled to form a junior varsity girls volleyball team.

“We’re working on it,” Coach Remer said. “We have approval, but because it’s already late in the season, we’ll do what we can to get then some games and some extra practice time.”

Players say that having so many players — 22 — on the varsity team prevents everyone from getting the individual attention they need to improve.

“It’s so hard to work on our skills as best as we can when there are so many people,” said sophomore Danielle Finn.

Even though they’re doing better, players say they still have room for improvement.

Danielle said that proper communication with each other, especially between players who call for the ball, is a must for the team moving forward.

“We need to have better communication with each other,” Danielle said. “Once we are down a couple points, our whole mindset changes, and we sabotage ourselves.”

Because communication is essential, having a lack of it during games can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

It did when the Firehawks lost 3-0 to Animo Leadership on Sept. 17.

“I think we lost our own game,” said Coach Jelly after that game. “Animo did not beat us. We just weren’t communicating effectively enough with each other.”


So far this season, the team is 5-6. There are three more games left to play.

But they already have more wins than last year and they’re not even half-way done with the season. Last year, they went 3-4, and the year before that, they went 3-11

Players rotate before the serve at the beginning of each possession. If they win the point, the same player serves for the next play.

“I think there has been so much improvement regarding our skills from previous years,” said Sophie. “But there is still room for more.”

Danielle said that continued hard work will keep the team from having to constantly fight uphill battles against better conditioned opponents.

“It’s a little frustrating for everyone, as much as we work really hard, all of the teams just seem to be better than us,” Danielle said. “So we got kind of down on ourselves. But overall, we’re for sure improving a lot.”

Ashley said it’s been great watching the team improve, and she expects that to continue.

“Playing sports in high school teaches you many things that make up your high school experience,” said Ashley. “It teaches you teamwork and balancing school work with co-curriculars.”

Things are looking up for the team, with an abundance of younger players ready to learn these same lessons.

But next season, they’ll have to pick a new libero.