This year’s crop of large-school volleyball players could fill several all-star teams.
In the North Bay League, four schools tied for first place, all with 11-3 records, marching through the rest of the league and battling each other hard. In the Sonoma County League, Sonoma Valley cruised to the title at 11-1.
Each team had its star or stars that propelled them to such success, of course.
But one, Jenna Mak, a senior outside hitter at Sonoma Valley, rose above all of them. She is The Press Democrat’s All-Empire Player of the Year.
Mak, voted the SCL’s most valuable player for the second year running, is the only local volleyball player to earn a full-ride athletic scholarship to a Division I school. She will attend Wichita State University, a Missouri Valley Conference power, next year.
Mak is expected to play libero, a defensive position, and redshirt her freshman year.
Coaches — hers and opponents’ — said Mak’s talent is undeniable.
“Who is the most skilled at every job in volleyball? As a server, passer and even though she doesn’t get to hit year-round, Jenna is the best,” said her longtime coach Chelsea Scott. “Maybe she’s not the strongest or the biggest, but that doesn’t mean she’s not just as effective.”
Mak was in good company in the top tier though, with fellow senior outside hitters and NBL co-MVPs Allison Post from Windsor and Mckenna LaForge of Montgomery among her toughest competition for the year’s top honor. Coaches in both leagues had good arguments for all three girls to be the player of the year.
One opposing coach called Mak “probably the best, most polished all-around player” around, a sentiment echoed by others. Another said she had “exceptional ball-control skills.”
A common theme among other coaches about Mak: she was the single most crucial player to her team’s success.
“We live and die by Jenna. If Jenna is good, we are good. If she’s not, we’re not,” Scott said. “She is just a huge, huge impact player.”
Mak, a four-year varsity player, learned the fundamentals playing volleyball in her backyard with her sisters, both of whom played competitively.
“We would serve over our pool because it was the distance of the court. Our fence was the height of the net. We made sure we got the overhand serving down. We’d play pepper,” she said.
A few games into her freshman year, the coach put her in as a libero, and she remained in that position until last season, when she played hitter more often.
“We didn’t have a lot of hitters. I hit a little bit for my club team, so they thought let’s just try this,” she said. “From junior year and through this year I was hitting outside and going all the way around.”
The experience all the way around made her invaluable to the Dragons, who went 15-7 overall, capturing the league title and the SCL tournament with a win against second-place Petaluma.
“We had some bumps in the road this season. If we weren’t working together, I feel like people would get angry and we’d just fall apart,” she said. “But the last game was our best. We worked as a team and did really well.”
ALL-EMPIRE: LARGE SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jenna Mak, sr., outside hitter, Sonoma Valley
Natalie Codding, sr., libero, Cardinal Newman
Sianna DeCarli, sr., outside hitter, Petaluma
Emily Eaton, sr., outside hitter, Ukiah
Payton Jones, sr., libero, Maria Carrillo
Mckenna LaForge, sr., outside hitter, Montgomery
Allison Post, sr., outside hitter, Windsor
Juliana Bertolucci, sr., setter, Petaluma
Abby Hines, jr., setter, Montgomery
Ashley Jacob, sr., outside hitter, Maria Carrillo
Cassie Killeen, jr., outside hitter, Cardinal Newman
Logan Peck, sr., outside hitter, Montgomery
Amanda Wright, sr., outside hitter, Maria Carrillo
COACH OF THE YEAR
Becky Sani, El Molino