The Mariners’ lead is cut to one point, but Jenna Belton, the 6-foot-1-inch lean blonde, keeps a smile on her face as she brings her team into a tight huddle in the center of their side of the net to say a few words of encouragement to sophomores, juniors and even a freshman.
Belton receives the incoming serve, and after skying for the set, she strikes down a kill off the outstretched arms of a Mt. Madonna defender to regain control and the smiles on the faces of her teammates.
The Mariners could be up or down, but if you look at Belton’s face you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
“She’s completely centered,” said Aptos head coach David Faz. “It could be raining, and there could be a huge storm going on and she would say, ‘let’s go play in the rain.’”
It’s that cool and easy-going demeanor that the Mariners will need to feed off of when they play for the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League championship in next week’s tournament.
So far, Belton has helped her team to a 13-1 league record and a share of the top spot in the league with the Soquel Knights.
The Mariners and Knights split their two-game season series with the home team winning each game.
Aptos took the first game in four sets, and the Knights outlasted the Mariners in the second game in five.
In their win over the Knights, Belton was the best player on the court, racking up 19 kills, 22 digs and three aces, but through the heated match she kept the same peaceful smile.
She’s just enjoying the moments of her final season on hardwood and with the Mariners.
Next season she will ditch the gym, and go outdoors to play sand volleyball at the University of Southern California.
“Playing volleyball has been my favorite high school experience,” Belton said. “This season has been a great way to finish my career.”
After stepping onto the beaches of Santa Cruz and taking her early whippings from more experienced sand volleyball players, Belton began to fall in love with the sport and she also began to excel.
After four years of hard work, and numerous California Beach Volleyball Association tournaments, she earned an invitation to train with the USA National 19U team, to go along with her commitment to USC.
“She’s equally good on both,” Faz said. “Playing on sand helps her when she makes the move back over. I think she could’ve gone and played division I volleyball somewhere if she wanted to. She has every shot in the tool box.”
So why did she choose sand over hardwood?
“Playing beach is a little harder,” Belton said, “but I feel at home on the beach.”
After the Mariners lost to the Knights, Faz told them to keep in it in their minds for the rest of the night and after that let it go.
Belton did just that, and she hopes that the rest of her teammates, which she refers to as sisters, did the same.
“I’m trying to lead by example,” Belton said. “We have a lot of youth on the team and sometimes our youth shows. It’s all about playing through adversity and winning as a unit.”
That’s the kind of leadership she learned during the 2011 season when the Mariners won the league title over the Soquel Knights in the SCCAL tournament.
The first-time captain is trying to guide her team to a repeat performance of that season.
“We’re a little nervous (for the tournament) but I think it’s more exciting jitters,” Belton said after being honored on the Mariners’ senior night. “We’re going to go in there knowing that we can win, but not expecting that it’s going to come easy.”
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