To most of the girls volleyball followers in the state, the ascension of Estrella Foothills volleyball in a year from eighth seed to six points away from a 4A state title was a stunning achievement.
Wolves parent Dale Kamarata said he could see the night of Nov. 13, or something like it, coming for a long time.
Kamarata founded Estrella Youth Sports as a nonprofit for kids age 3 through eighth grade in 2005, largely because of how far it was for Estrella Mountain Ranch residents to drive and get their kids into a league.
While their young sport of choice was basketball, a group of parents from those early EYS years recently watched their daughters play for Estrella Foothills in the school’s first state volleyball title game. The high school Wolves stormed back from a two-set deficit to push defending champion Greenway to the brink before losing 1-9 in the fifth set.
“To watch this come to fruition over so many years was mind blowing. Even after we lost that state championship match,” Kamarata said. “I told them, next to lifting that trophy you had the second-best feeling and the best lesson anyone ever had. You never gave up.’”
At the start EYS offered baseball, basketball, flag football, soccer and volleyball. At first these were recreational leagues.
Then a talented group of young boys basketball players came in and parents asked if that team could play in the larger competitive club world. They did, and the core of that team led Estrella Foothills High School to a 29-3 season and state Division III runner-up finish as seniors in 2016.
A year or two after that team gelled, a crop of young girls basketball players did the same. Kamarata said some Saturdays he would coach three boys club games, eat a sack lunch then coach three girls games.
“They had a handful of girls that were playing basketball what were really athletic. They put them together on an all girls basketball team and was beating some of the boys team,” said Jen Barber, mother of Emma Barber.
Some of those bonds go further back, to a 4-year-old t-ball team featuring Emma Barber, Tessa Kamarata, Alice and Nayeli Mancilla and Jensyn Wray. By the time the EYS club volleyball team cranked up those girls were playing their new sport of choice along current Estrella Foothills seniors Makayla Hurles, Aniya Mitchell and Alliston Potter and sophomore Sara Betts.
Kamarata’s ideas for that group changed after Tessa and some of her fifth- and sixth-grade teammates finished a club basketball tourney.
“They all looked at me and said, ‘Coach, we want to be a club volleyball team now,’” Kamarata said.
So Sal Mancilla and Oscar Manzo, assistant coaches with the basketball teams, started watching YouTube videos about volleyball coaching and stepped with Kamarata and the girls into an unfamiliar world. Missy Mancilla also served many years as an assistant coach.
Kamarata said that trio is responsible for the girls rapid volleyball development. Estrella Foothills graduate Sarah Gagliardo also came on board to help the EYS Wolves in recent years.
At its first club tournament at Buckeye High School, EYS had no ideas of other clubs’ elaborate setups or even how to make a proper rotation.
“Club is incredibly competitive. Here, everybody wants every kid to succeed. Everybody was rooting for everybody else’s kids,” Jen Barber said.
Of the 15 players on the Wolves’ 2019 volleyball roster, only senior libero Nadia Trinidad has no connection to Estrella Youth Sports. Freshman Sage Chittester never played for the club but was in the EYS recreational leagues.
“The fun part of it is all of these kids go to Estrella Foothills. We’ve definitely seen the fruits of that labor in basketball, volleyball and baseball. They all grew up together and love each other and got connected that way,” Kamarata said.
The EYS Wolves played in major club tournaments, facing off against giant clubs sporting up to 30 different teams. And the Estrella club won its share.
One incredulous coach from a metro Los Angeles mega-clubs could not believe the girls on this club team that just pushed his team to the limit came from the same neighborhood.
“The one thing I said to them is the reason your players have their names on the back of their jerseys is they don’t know each other,” Kamarata said.
The Barber family has seen the other side. Emma competed for the Northwest Valley-based Club Arrowhead until returning to EYS last winter.
While they enjoyed Emma’s time in the larger club, the Barbers recognized how unique the EYS experience is.
“In my opinion, clubs will take girls on their background. When you have girls that are athletic but unknown to the club world, they don’t often get that chance,” Jen Barber said. “In club world, the grass is always greener. To see these girls come back and play together has been special.”
When his daughter and the bulk of the basketball and volleyball EYS Wolves were about to leave junior high, their coaches brought the girls to Estrella Foothills gym. He wanted them to describe what they saw on its walls.
More specifically, Kamarata hoped a player or two noticed what was not there.
“One of the girls said, ‘There’s no volleyball banner up on this wall.’ We said, ‘You’re going to put the first volleyball banner on that wall. You’re going to win region and you’re going to win state,’” Kamarata said.
A year before the current Estrella Foothills senior class arrived in high school, Jennifer Gonzalez became the Wolves’ head volleyball coach.
The EYS volleyball coaches quickly recognized Gonzalez’s acumen and started to tailor their club team’s practices and strategies to mimic hers, Kamarata said.
In addition to taking the program to the next level, Barber said Gonzalez has been the perfect coach for the isolated Estrella Mountain Ranch community — willing to work with what she has instead of seeking out what she does not.
“What I like about coach Gonzalez is she doesn’t do recruiting. She does not cross that line. And she doesn’t play favorites. Everybody gets a chance,” Barber said.
Kamarata said it has been an honor to watch Coach Gonzales turn these wonderful young girls into amazing young women.
It is also time for Estrella Youth Sports to step away from these girls volleyball careers. The team has either aged out of the club system or been noticed by larger clubs that travel more. Tessa Kamarata and Nayeli Mancilla, in particular, have taken to beach volleyball and will play in that club circuit this winter.
But that group of young basketball players that turned into volleyball aces will team up one last time at Estrella Foothills next fall. And they have only one goal left.
“They’re going to have great opportunities and will learn some things. And then we’re going to come back and finish this thing,” Kamarata said.