Catalina’s boys volleyball team has beaten the teams it expected to this season.
Now, the Trojans must defeat the opponents they need to.
This weekend’s 12-team Warrior Invitational at Pueblo should provide the perfect tuneup for No. 20 Catalina heading into the postseason.
“We played our first two tournaments at the start of the year when we weren’t prepared whatsoever,” Catalina coach Scott Tunnell said. “We have all these solid pieces, and I feel right now we’re just starting to put it all together.”
The Trojans (17-8) went 6-0 to win the Pueblo tourney last year, but lost in the first round of the state playoffs. The Star caught up with the Trojans to find out three things they are hoping to accomplish this weekend to help avoid another early exit from the postseason.
Tunnell, in his first season as Catalina’s coach, didn’t know what to expect heading into this spring.
“I knew they had a couple of good players returning,” he said, “but we ended up finding three or four players that had never played.”
Juniors Cole Kowalski and Austin Babb have led the charge for the returners. The 6-foot Kowalski, one of the top outside hitters in the state, is averaging more than four kills per set in his second year at the position. Babb, a 6-foot-2–inch middle hitter, leads the team in blocks and is second in kills.
“It’s nice seeing the amount of improvement we’ve made since Day 1 and knowing that we still have a few weeks till state,” Kowalski said. “The improvements that can still be made will be huge, and once a couple more things click, we are going to be a really strong team.”
Find a leader
With mostly upperclassmen on the team but a shortage of experience, Tunnell would like to see someone step up and be an “alpha dog presence.”
“We have a lot of guys looking to each other for guidance,” he said. “We are trying to find someone who will lead by example.”
Seniors Tanner Giussuebel and Eloy Cruz could be the two to carry that mantle down the stretch. Giussuebel, a setter, leads the team in assists, and Cruz, a libero, is the Trojans’ pacesetter in digs.
Senior middle blocker Andres Acuna is another Trojan who could take a leadership role.
With a new coach, new players and no defined leader, it’s no surprise that Catalina’s psyche has been tested at times this year.
“I would love to see us play with some confidence — that we really believe that we’re one of the top teams in Tucson,” Tunnell said. “Because I think that we are, or at least have the potential to be.
“We need to realize that we do belong, and we need to start performing like it.”
The Trojans’ only regular-season losses are to Sahuaro and Rincon/University, two teams ranked in the top 12 of the division.
No. 7 Sahuaro will be at the two-day invitational, along with third-ranked Cienega.