After a week of tryouts, the Bret Harte High School volleyball program finally had its entire freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams set. On Monday, first-year varsity head coach Jacey Porovich sat with members of the entire program and spoke to them about staying positive and having a good attitude, both in and out of the gym.
After the discussion with her players ended, Porovich could, at long last, begin coaching her varsity squad. Hired in March to run the program, Porovich is thrilled that the season has finally arrived.
“It’s exciting,” Porovich said Monday afternoon. “This is what we’ve been working towards. We are ready to get started and be pounding the ground every day.”
Porovich’s Bullfrogs are just two years removed from their first-ever trip to the section championship. She took over a program that won 178 games under former head coach Rich Juarez, which included a Mother Lode League title in 2011. Porovich, a 2002 Bret Harte graduate, knows how much the program has grown and she intends to continue its trajectory.
“It’s a respectful program and I believe in the program, and that’s a large reason why I agreed to step in,” Porovich said. “I want to continue moving the program in an upward direction. We have a lot of talent in the program right now and looking down, not only with the JV and freshmen, but even at the feeder schools. We’ve got a lot of knowledgeable coaches who have been put in place to help keep the program successful.”
The Bullfrogs have a number of key returners from the 2018 team who went 8-6 in league play and lost to Linden (3-1) in the opening round of the playoffs. Even though the Bullfrogs returned to the postseason, one year after their trip to the section finals, the team had a hard time clicking as a unit and, at times, struggled to find a constant groove.
“What I saw last year was that our team chemistry wasn’t there and we didn’t work together the way that I think we could have,” senior setter Katrina Swift said. “This year, I’d like to focus on working better together as a team, because I know that the talent is there.”
In order for Bret Harte’s offense to run smoothly, Swift will need to lead the charge. Swift recorded 298 assists during her junior year, which included a career-high 38 in a 3-2 win over Summerville. Even though she only stands 5-feet, 3-inches tall, Porovich expects Swift to be a player that her teammates look up to.
“I expect her to be a vocal leader, both on and off the court,” Porovich said. “I think the longer you are on a team, the more knowledgeable and confident you get with how the team works and what it should look like, and those are important qualities for a setter to have, as they are the quarterback out there.”
One of Swift’s main targets will be fellow senior Gabi Hutchens. Entering her fourth year on the varsity level, Hutchens no longer feels the pressure of being a varsity player.
“It’s a different team every year, but I still feel comfortable in my spot and I’m feeling comfortable with how I play and where I am with the team,” said Hutchens, who recorded 126 kills, 301 digs and 35 serving aces in 2018.
Hutchens has been a part of three Bret Harte playoff teams, but in order for the 2019 squad to reach the level of success it did in 2017, Hutchens believes that they need to not dwell on miscues.
“We need to do a better job of letting go of the mistakes,” Hutchens said. “I know that everyone gets down on themselves, but mistakes aren’t a big deal as long as you just move on and do better the next time.”
While Hutchens and Swift are two cornerstone players, Porovich doesn’t expect them to do all the heavy lifting. A quality group of juniors, along with sophomore Hailey Marinics, has the first-year head coach feeling good about the upcoming season.
“We have a pretty stacked junior class with some powerful hitters,” Porovich said. “I’m hoping and expecting to see some big things from Mikenna Grotto, Emma Lane, Hailey Callahan, and we also have Jaden Arias, who was already a varsity player last year.”
The Bullfrogs don’t have overwhelming size, but Porovich feels that what her team lacks in height, it will make up for with versatility.
“We are not huge, but we have a little bit of size and maybe a little more than we’ve had in the past,” Porovich said. “But it’s the versatility that we have that has me excited. We are having a lot of fun playing through a lot of different rotation scenarios with different girls in different spots.”
The Bullfrogs hope that this will be the year they can clinch their seventh league title and first since 2011. But in order to do that, they will need to knock off county rival Calaveras, along with Sonora, which are both five-time defending champions.
“Both Calaveras and Sonora are always tough, so those are the big games,” Swift said. “I think Calaveras will have some serious talent and Sonora will, too, so we’re going to have to work really hard in those games.”