There was chest pounding and primal screams.
Shots whizzed by like Scud missiles while players and coaches crashed to the hardwood floor.
A high-stakes game of high school volleyball, you ask? No, man, we’re talking about practice. Not a game—practice.
“We try to keep practice as intense as possible,” said Camarillo High senior setter Jesse Flitt.
“We want to keep our intensity up at all times. It pushes us and, obviously, when our coaches are on the floor, we want to hit the ball as hard as we can, right at them.”
The Camarillo boys’ volleyball team is taking no prisoners this season.
Winners of two preseason tournaments— a first for any varsity volleyball program in school history—the Scorpions (18-2 prior to Thursday’s nonleague match against Buena, and that record includes one-game tournament matches) have their sights set on capturing the team’s first Pacific View League crown since 2008.
During Monday’s workout, head coach Rob Vandermay and assistants Steve Yoshimoto and Matt Dawson joined the ACHS players on the court for an epic scrimmage.
The old guard held its own as the young bucks went back and forth, the pressure rising with each passing point. No one wanted to lose, even though nothing substantial was at stake.
Power, precision, patience, focus, fire, effort and instruction— the Scorpions’ entire bag of tricks was on display as a cool breeze blew through the ACHS gymnasium.
“It’s fun for the coaches to get out there and compete with the guys,” said Vandermay, now in his 15th season guiding the Camarillo varsity program.
“Plus, when you have a small roster like we do, sometimes you need extra bodies to fill out the numbers.”
Make no mistake, Camarillo has all the pieces in place to not only win a league championship but also compete for CIF-Southern Section Division 3 hardware.
The Scorpions are ranked No. 8 in the latest CIF- SS Division 3 coaches’ poll.
Of the 10 players on Camarillo’s roster, five are listed at 6-foot-3 or taller.
Senior Danny Reilly and junior JT McGinley clog the middle. Reilly, a soft-spoken standout who competed for the basketball squad, measures in at 6-foot-6. McGinley is 6-foot-3.
Getting kills past the Camarillo duo is akin to trying to dunk on the Houston Rockets circa 1984, when Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon were patrolling the paint. It’s physically possible, but highly unlikely.
“In general, I can get a lot higher than most of the middle blockers we face,” said Reilly, a three-year varsity member. “With our size, it makes it easier to hit over most people and get better angles on blocking shots. It can be a big advantage for us.”
Seniors Shaun York and Christian Van Ouwerkerk start at outside hitter. Kendall Jensen, another senior, adds quality depth to the position.
Van Ouwerkerk has been an iron man for the Scorpions. He rarely subs out during a match. York is an emotional leader with a blue-collar approach who garners respect from all his teammates.
In capturing titles during the Camarillo Classic and San Luis Obispo Town Tournament, Van Ouwerkerk said Camarillo thrived off an all-for-one-andone for-all attitude.
“We’re all good friends who pump each other up and have a good time when we’re playing,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’ve played so well, but most of all it’s because we know how to work with each other and pick each other up during the toughest matches.”
Since a young age, Evan Yoshimoto, a 6-foot-5 junior, has honed his volleyball skills on the beaches of Southern California.
Although he can line up anywhere on the hardwood, Evan Yoshimoto focused on playing opposite this season as a way to crack the starting lineup.
In addition to his father serving as an assistant coach, Evan Yoshimoto’s younger brother Owen is also on the Scorpions’ roster. Owen Yoshimoto is the only sophomore on the varsity squad. At 5-foot-11, he’s a versatile student-athlete who can man outside hitter, opposite or setter when called upon.
“My brother and I have been beach partners for a while,” Evan Yoshimoto said. “Playing together on the beach has helped our relationship—and our volleyball—a lot.”
The Yoshimoto trio highlights the family atmosphere surrounding the Camarillo team.
A fourth Yoshimoto, Matt, will be a freshman in the Camarillo volleyball program next year.
Senior libero Jose Rojas has been battling an ankle injury but expects to be close to full strength when PVL play begins Tuesday night at Rio Mesa.
In Rojas’ absence, junior Richard Martin, a defensive specialist, did an excellent job filling in at libero, Vandermay said.
Martin played an instrumental role in the Scorpions’ 3-1 defeat of Ventura during a non-league contest on March 17.
“That was probably the best match I’ve seen (Martin) play in his three years of playing volleyball,” the coach said. “His passes were right on the money.”
While his teammates contend that winning a league championship isn’t necessarily life or death, Rojas makes no bones about his desire to beat out Oxnard and Rio Mesa for the top spot in league.
“We will be very disappointed if we don’t win it,” Rojas said. “We’ve had the talent to win the past two seasons, but we haven’t been able to finish. This year, we can finish, and we have extra motivation to do so.”
If there’s one player that drives the Camarillo engine, however, it’s Flitt, the senior setter with three seasons of varsity experience.
Flitt has been named MVP of both tournaments the team has prevailed in. His enthusiasm for the sport and unyielding desire to win is unmatched.
Even during Monday’s practice, when a final shot went out of bounds and his side lost, Flitt was visibly upset, if only for a brief moment.
“Super competitiveness, when it’s controlled, is fantastic,” Vandermay said. “(Flitt) has been able to control that. When it’s not controlled, it can lead to mistakes. Right now, he’s like canned heat.”
The entire team is red-hot.