Jaylee Gonzales is just two months into her Las Vegas Robertson volleyball career, but she feels like she’s just one of the girls on one of the best teams in the state, regardless of class.
When Gonzales made the move from Albuquerque Hope Christian to the Meadow City — along with her mom and newly hired Lady Cardinals head coach Vanessa Gonzales — she didn’t expect how easy it would be for her to merge into an already strong team dynamic.
“I was really nervous as first — the new girl having to meet new people,” said Jaylee Gonzales, a junior middle hitter. “But they’ve been super welcoming. It feels like I’ve been playing with them forever already.”
If there was any doubt about some of the coaching and personnel changes slowing down Robertson, that should be put to rest after the Lady Cardinals beat two 5A schools and a 4A program to win the Tournament of Champions on Saturday at Santa Fe High. Robertson swept 5A Los Lunas, 25-22 25-22, 26-24, for the tournament title, while improving to 6-0.
The Lady Cardinals displayed a deep roster in which coach Gonzales used 12 players against the Lady Tigers (3-3), and each of them were effective. If anything, it’s the sublimation of egos that characterizes Robertson’s culture.
That includes the coaching staff, as Franchesca Jenkins, who coached the Lady Cardinals to the 3A state title in 2019 after the suspension of head coach Stacy Fulgenzi, is assisting Gonzales this year.
“We’re all so friendly, we don’t have any problems,” senior setter Mikaella Sena said.
Sena is one of nine seniors who dot the Lady Cardinals roster, and many of them have played at the varsity level since they were underclassmen. In fact, several of them were a part of the 2019 team that endured the suspension and dismissal of Fulgenzi to win the state title.
When the Lady Cardinals missed the shortened season in the spring when athletics returned amid the pandemic, it gave the seniors some fuel to their competitive fire since they could not defend their title.
“It was hard because we didn’t have any seniors last year, so it would have been the same group, minus Jaylee and Mistidawn [Roybal],” Sena said. “We would have had a good shot last year, too.”
Good turned to great with the addition of the Gonzaleses and Roybal, who was a multisport performer at Pecos and played on the state champion girls basketball team. Jaylee Gonzales was a starter with the Lady Huskies in the spring and led the team in kills.
The Lady Cardinals already had a healthy rotation of hitters in seniors Jayden Jenkins, Stella Garcia, Lainey Baca and Pasepa Tuineau along with rising freshman Alyxa King. Adding two more hitters gave Sena a cadre to rely upon most other teams could not match.
That showed against the Lady Tigers as Robertson used Roybal, Baca and Tuineau when Jaylee Gonzales, Jenkins and Baca were in the back row or on the bench. Jaylee Gonzales finished with a team-high 19 kills, and Roybal and Jenkins each added seven, Baca had six and Tuineau added four.
Sena has a good problem on her hands in trying to feed touches to so many hitters, but she uses her senior savvy to find a way.
“If we have one of our [outside hitters] on fire, I keep trying to feed them,” Sena said. “Then, throw in [a set to] an opposite hitter so that no one knows if I am going to keep feeding that person who’s putting it down. That’ll keep them guessing where I’m going to go.”
Roybal played a larger role when Garcia missed the championship match after injuring her ankle in the semifinal win against Gallup. That underscored Robertson’s ability to not lose firepower at the net when its top hitters were not up front.
“Like I said yesterday, the girls are competitive with each other, but they can step in when one is down,” coach Gonzales said.
It’s an open-arms policy that is working, regardless who shows up on Robertson’s doorstep.