Sally Chesnut didn’t even make her seventh-grade volleyball team.
But she didn’t just quit or go home and sulk, complaining about how unfair it was. She worked. She practiced, all by herself, to improve her skills.
The next year, her eighth-grade coach, Ally Deal, was impressed enough to give Chesnut a spot on the Rincon Valley Middle School team.
Five years later, Chesnut is The Press Democrat’s All-Empire large school volleyball player of the year.
“Sally was the heart and soul of our team this year,” said Deal, Chesnut’s coach at Maria Carrillo for the past three years. “She was our go-to girl.”
A senior outside hitter, Chesnut led the North Bay League or was close to it in every statistical category, guiding the Pumas to an undefeated roll through the North Bay League (14-0, 27-10 overall) and the deepest postseason run by a local team.
Chesnut was the team’s best defensive player and offensive player, Deal said.
“She led our team in kills, digs and serve-receive passing percentage,” a rare feat, she said.
A player who was voted by teammates as co-captain and who leads in every category might let that go to her head. But Chesnut is a humble kid, Deal said.
“She is really bright and super easy to coach,” she said. “She is extremely modest. Even though we’ve been telling her this the whole time, she still does not realize how good she is at volleyball.”
That shows in conversations with Chesnut.
When she learned she was selected Player of the Year, she responded how proud she is of her team.
In discussing memorable moments of her senior season, she doesn’t talk about a critical pass she made, a spectacular serve or a diving save. Again, she talked about the team.
She described a time at the beginning of the season when the Pumas lost to Analy and Sonoma Valley back-to-back. But Deal switched a few things up and the team hit its stride in a tournament in Sonoma, where Carrillo won three of four matches.
“From that moment on, we played more as a team,” Chesnut said. “When we weren’t as strong on offense, we had to focus more on our defensive strategy and our serving.”
Another high point for Chesnut came during a loss, strangely.
“We came back from being down 9-13 in the last game,” she said. “We said, ‘There’s nothing else we have, we have to put everything out on the court.’ We stepped it up. We came back with a five-point stretch. Even though we lost, I was proud of our effort.”
Deal said it’s been a joy coaching Chesnut all these years.
Chesnut has gotten less timid as she’s grown into her role as team leader.
“As a player, she’s gotten way more confident. Her senior year, she showcased that, taking more risks, making plays with confidence that she didn’t do in the past,” Deal said. “With that, her skill dramatically increased.
“And she is just the nicest kid you’ll ever meet. She’s super encouraging and positive. She even apologizes when she does something wrong. It’s so rare to have an 18-year-old girl look at you and apologize when she does something wrong.”
You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.