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Digs, Aces And Fun All Part Of Friday Night Volleyball
vball group
Two teams of alumni battled it out, then the winning team took on the current varsity volleyball Lady Cougars in a fun, entertaining evening of volleyball in the main gym at Escalon High School on Friday night. Overseeing the festivities was varsity head coach Teresa Williamson, back row, fifth from left. Marg Jackson/The Times

Friday night featured some battles on the volleyball court.

It was the annual alumni game, this time with two teams of alumni squaring off first and the winner then turning around to play this year’s varsity Lady Cougars.

“I told them I would play bench or sub,” joked Amanda Clayton-McNeil, Class of 1993.

She did go in to serve several times for her alumni team, racking up a few points, and also brought appreciative cheers and applause from fans and friends in the stands when she made a diving attempt at a ball, hitting the court at about the same time as the ball landed just out of her reach.

The only alumni that graduated earlier than McNeil was varsity head coach Teresa Leipelt-Williamson, who did not play but coached her team in the competition against the winning alumni.

Her daughter, Stephanie Williamson-Ceja, Class of 2006, played with the alumni and was on the squad that faced off with the varsity. She has returned to help coach the varsity and worked with the team during their Section title-winning run in the 2019-2020 school year.

The alumni squads featured a veritable ‘who’s who’ of former players, from Hannah Murphy to Melanie Smith, Megan Faria-Keenan to Jenna Martin-Rodriguez. Also suiting up for the alumni was current JV head coach Krystal Barajas-Rodriguez, who did battle in the alumni-varsity contest against her daughter, EHS player Haylee Barajas.

Martin-Rodriguez said the alumni gathered for “three or four practices” prior to the event and she was surprised at how quickly it all came back, not only the intricacies of the game, but also the drive to win.

All the way around, it was a fun and competitive night, said Williamson. There was a good turnout of fans to cheer on the players and it was a full evening of volleyball.

“It was the third year of doing this alumni game after taking a year off due to COVID, and I feel like it gets better and better every year,” Williamson said.

Usually hosted during the school year, it also normally includes the Cougar boy athletes taking part in a buff puff game but that was not able to be coordinated this year. So they changed the format to allow for the two alumni teams to do battle, with the winner of that match moving on to face the varsity. A few players from the ‘losing’ alumni squad were drafted into service to take the court against the varsity as well and, truthfully, there were no losers as players had a good time and the fans were thoroughly entertained.

Once the alumni team was ready to take on the varsity, Williamson stepped back into her role as coach and every point was important. Though it was a straight sets win for the varsity, 25-18, 25-21, 25-19, it was not an easy victory. The alumni squad went all out, diving for digs, setting up shots and getting high above the net to slam home the kills.

“It’s so much fun watching the alumni get back on the court, especially the ones that I have previously coached, and this year they really challenged the varsity,” Williamson said.

Special shirts were made for the contest and the alumni listed on the back included Teresa Leipelt-Williamson, Amanda Clayton McNeil, Krystal Barajas-Rodriguez, Michelle Barajas, Jenna Martin-Rodriguez, Stephanie Williamson-Ceja, Shaylynn Beam, Megan Faria-Keenan, Nicole Bianchi, Adalia Cajias, Cassidy Caton, Brooke Silva, Natalie Bianchi, Peyton Arnold, Tiana Lopez, Hannah Murphy, Tess Cosby, Sage Davis and Melanie Smith.

Graduating with the Class of 2006, Jenna Martin-Rodriguez was all over the volleyball court on Friday night, here going down for the dig as teammates Megan Faria-Keenan and Natalie Bianchi look on. Marg Jackson/The Times
Class of 2014 alum Cassidy Caton gets up to tip the ball over the net in alumni competition in the EHS gym on Friday night, July 9. Marg Jackson/The Times