An opponent hits the volleyball, sending it hurtling to the floor of the court.
Suddenly, everything is meaningless to senior outside hitter Vanessa Escobar except the ball, dangerously close to the ground. If she makes the wrong move, she could earn the Cavaliers a point violation.
Muscles tensing, Escobar dives to save the ball, one hand to the ground to protect herself from face planting.
Success! She sends the ball straight to the hands of the setter.
Escobar described this save as one of her proudest moments in volleyball this season, especially since she injured her shoulder during summer tryouts. At the beginning of the season, she wasn’t able to serve overhand for the first few games because it put too much force on her shoulder.
“At our third game, I was able to make my usual overhand serve over the net without my arm hurting, so I think I’m all healed for the season!” Escobar said.
Her teammates admire her physical and mechanical ability on the court, as well as her determination to never let the ball drop.
“Vanessa is always the one getting that ball that everyone thought was going to drop,” said sophomore middle Sylvia Valverde
And she’s always ready to put it all on the court with a smile on her face, a lifting presence for the team, Valverde said.
Escobar has been playing volleyball for the school since fifth grade, after being introduced to the sport in PE class.
The discovery that she was surprisingly good at serving drove her to join the school team and improve.
“I’ve always been the strong one in my family, so my serves were really hard and powerful, even as a fifth grader,” Escobar said.
Her strongest skills as a volleyball player are her serves and hits. Seeing the ball hit the floor after one of her power moves is one reason why she loves the sport.
“When you serve aces, get a perfect pass to the setter or a really powerful and successful hit — it’s moments like those that make volleyball really fun,” Escobar said.
Escobar also enjoys the team cooperation aspect of the sport, the trust and communication that goes into each play.
In her freshman year, she was team captain of the JV volleyball team and has been on the varsity team since sophomore year. This year, Escobar was named varsity team captain by coach Jason Kreps.
“I choose leaders based on experience and how they interact and respond to other students on and off the court,” Kreps said.
“Vanessa has been on the varsity team for three years. She’s a role model and someone who quietly leads the team,” he said.
Escobar was surprised and happy to receive her title this season.
“I didn’t even know I was captain until Kreps pulled me aside at one of our first games before the coin toss,” Escobar said.
Driven by her responsibility, Escobar aims to lead the team by setting a good example for the younger members and keeping positive energy.
Volleyball has helped her come out of her shell and step up to leadership positions, Escobar said.
“I was always really afraid of public speaking and giving my perspective, but volleyball really helped me push my limits when I was JV captain and again as a senior,” Escobar said.
Outside of volleyball, Escobar is also an editor-in-chief of the Medallion, the school’s yearbook publication.
Her position as an editor in chief played a role in developing her patience and mentorship skills to her younger yearbook staff and volleyball teammates.
“I prepared with (co-editor-in-chief Lilah Shorey) our class agendas so we’d know exactly what to say, and helped new members get comfortable with writing, photography and design,” Escobar said.
If they didn’t understand, Escobar would be there to help them.
In volleyball, Escobar helps enhance the skills of her new teammates by showing them tips and practicing various drills with them.
She has also made deeper connections with her teammates — people she would have never gotten to meet or know without volleyball.
“I’ve never talked to Kaitlyn before this year, and now we’re really good friends,” Escobar said.
Sophomore setter Kaitlyn Dias had no qualms about Kreps’ decision to name Escobar as captain.
“I think a worthy leader is someone who is close with everyone on the team, super positive and experienced, and Vanessa checks off all those boxes,” Dias said. “Her skill and composure on the court is unmatched.”
As a mentor, Dias said, Escobar set an example for the team to let mistakes go and have good sportsmanship.
—By Lauren Lu
Originally published in the Sept 21 edition of the Octagon.