Vista Grande vs. Mesquite volleyball 9/5/19

Vista Grande versus Gilbert Mesquite on Sept. 5, 2019, at Vista Grande. Junior Liliana Cruz (9) is a returning starter from last season.

CASA GRANDE – Three matches into the season, the Vista Grande volleyball team has already surpassed last year’s win total, as it finished 2-15 in 2019.

That doesn’t surprise Ateliano “Tui” Tuiteleleapaga, who is in the second year of his second stint as coach of the Spartans.

“I’m confident we have what it takes to be competitive,” he said. “Things are clicking pretty well.”

Vista Grande is 3-0 heading into Tuesday’s match at Combs. The Spartans, who went 2-15 in 2019, opened with a 3-0 victory at Scottsdale Coronado. They defeated Apache Junction 3-2 and Phoenix Cortez 3-0 at home last week.

The team has two seniors, three juniors and four sophomores on its roster.

“We’re young, but I think we can do a lot,” Tuiteleleapaga said. “We’re pretty well balanced. Our three returners are doing a good job of leading, and we’re working pretty well together. The girls have grasped my coaching philosophy.”

Kiley Rodriguez and Itzel Leyva provide the senior leadership. Outside hitter/setter Rodriguez had 14 kills, 17 aces and 84 digs last season. Leyva, also an outside hitter/setter, had 16 aces, 45 assists and 72 digs.

The main rotation also includes juniors Liliana Cruz (outside hitter) and Jayla Scott (middle blocker) along with sophomores Mya Tapia (outside hitter) and Jasmine Higgins (middle blocker).

Cruz had 53 digs last season. Scott had 17 blocks despite playing mostly at the junior varsity level.

Rounding out the roster are junior defensive specialist Sophia Ibarra and sophomores Suzett Martinez (setter/defensive specialist) and Jan Arabella Castro (libero).

Rodriguez has a team-leading 23 kills (13 vs. Apache Junction) heading into this week’s action, along with nine aces, 26 assists and 18 digs. Leyva has 20 aces, 13 kills and 42 assists; Scott has 15 kills; Cruz has 10 kills and 19 digs; Higgins had six blocks against Apache Junction; Arabella Castro has 24 digs; and Tapia has 14 digs.

Tuiteleleapaga said five of his nine players were on the club team he coaches and reaped valuable experience prior to activities being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And he’s encouraged by the talent level in Vista Grande’s freshman and JV programs and the instruction those players are receiving from assistant coaches Kalena Adsuara and Danyall Cave.

“I’m very excited to see what they can do at the next level,” Tuiteleleapaga said.

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