By TONY NUNEZ
of THE REGISTER-PAJARONIAN
The Aptos High boys’ volleyball team shouldn’t be where it is.
Of course, that depends who you ask.
A quick poll around the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League might reveal some surprise that the Mariners have yet to lose a league game this late into the year.
But if you ask the Mariners themselves, this year has been no surprise.
“Yeah, the team did change a lot,” said Aptos senior outside hitter Jackson Shirley, “but, honestly, I think we’re as good as last year.”
One could make the argument that Aptos shouldn’t be.
The Mariners lost six seniors to graduation from a squad that won the league title, finished runner-up in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs and won a CIF regional playoff game. They also lost their coach Jake Landel.
Five of those six were starters, and four earned all-league recognition.
The big name from that half a dozen: Kacey Losik, who was named he SCCAL M.V.P. and led the team in nearly every statistical category last year.
Losik’s loss was supposed to cripple the Mariners.
And this year’s group has reveled in that fact.
“Kacey was an awesome and amazing player, Christian [Segura] was great, Mike [Spinelli] was great, but we have plenty of great players on this year’s team, too,” said Aptos junior libero Josh Powell. “I feel like we’re closer as a unit and as group this year. Last year we had awesome volleyball players that played their entire lives, but we weren’t airtight like we are this year — nothing is pulling us apart. That kind of makes us almost better [than last year]. In a different way.”
The Mariners weren’t the only team around the SCCAL that lost some of its most talented players to graduation. Rival Mt. Madonna, which placed second last year, said goodbye to four-year star outside hitter Brigg Busenhart as well as Jordan Willis, Zach Wagner and Zack Clark. And the league saw one of its strongest teams, Pacific Collegiate School, leave to the Pacific Coast Athletic League.
That mass purge of talent left a vacuum for new stars to fill, and the Mariners have had a handful of players rise to the occasion.
Shirley, an All-SCCAL Second Team selection last season, is on the very short list of league M.V.P. candidates through eight games. The 6-foot-2 power hitter took over as the team’s top offensive player, and has excelled in the role. Heading into Thursday night’s game against Harbor, Shirley had a team-high 216 kills, 30 aces and 38 blocks.
First-year coach Tyler Krinkie, a 2014 Aptos graduate, said the jump in production was expected, but explained that Shirley’s impact on every game is something no box score can quite show. His huge swings and stonewall defense has opened up opportunities for his teammates to shine and adjust to the varsity game. Juniors Truman Natividad and Christian Humphreys and sophomore Logan Schetselaar, whom have combined for 257 kills, have all improved as the season has gone along thanks to Shirley’s brilliance.
Junior setter Bryce Edwards and Powell, too, have made giant strides and become integral parts of the Mariners’ winning formula.
“It feels like [Shirley] has been carrying us a little bit, but at the same time you look down and some of the guys don’t have the numbers, but their impact on the court has been big,” Krinkie said. “[Shirley] gets the stats and all the numbers, but it’s not like the other guys have gotten pulled up the mountain. It’s definitely a team effort.”
It had to be with so many new starters, and so many uncertainties around the league.
Krinkie harped on building team chemistry from Day 1, and the players took his orders to the umpteen degree. If practice ended at 5:30 p.m., you were expected to hang around chatting, doing homework or combination of the two until 8. No plans on Saturday afternoon? Beach volleyball it is.
“We had a talk at the beginning and I said ‘we’re going to be a team,’” Krinkie said. “We’re not going to have separate groups. We have to have everyone be comfortable with everyone on the team. I wanted to make sure we could go and talk to each other if we needed to. These guys get along so well, and they have fun.”
Winning will do that. Proving people wrong, too.