Big 5 White Stars (Del Norte)

Payten Healy (co-MVP) Senior

Claire Smith (co-MVP) Senior

Antonia Alcala Senior

Kaleya Sanchez Junior

Honorable Mention

Tayler Melton Senior

Paula Mello Junior

Katherine Martinez Junior

Over the past four years the Del Norte Volleyball team has shared two Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 titles, finished second once, and captured an undefeated league championship. The Warriors have also competed in the North Coast Section Tournament in each of the last four years, advancing to the quarterfinals last year, before reaching the NCS semifinals this year. The 2017 squad also became the first team in school history to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Tournament, where Del Norte won its first game before being knocked out in the Nor-Cal quarterfinals.

Through it all, seniors Payten Healy and Claire Smith have been on the floor for nearly every single point. With Healy setting all four years and Smith starting at middle hitter, as well as rotating through the back row, neither player ever left the game for the Warriors.

Healy was named the HDN Big 5 Most Valuble Player last season, but the coaches in the league couldn’t distinguish between Healy and Smith this year.

Both girls have been honored as the 2017 Big 5 co-MVPs.

“It is kind of cool that they got this at the end, because they came into varsity together as freshmen and now they are both exiting out with MVPs,” said Del Norte head coach Debbie Lorenzi, who announced after the CIF playoffs that she will be stepping down after over 30 years as the head coach. “Payten was of course the best setter in the league, and during league play Claire has more kills, serve receive passes and good serves than anybody on the team. She was a smart hitter, and she is a good all around person.”

Healy and Smith were joined on the varsity by libero Antonia Alcala and Tayler Melton, and the senior foursome has provided the leadership that the team needed to put together one of the most successful seasons ever at Del Norte.

“The nice thing about this team is that anybody could take over as captain,” Lorenzi said. “One day it might have been Claire, another day Payten, another day Tayler and another day Toni. My four seniors kind of shared the captainship this year, but Claire was ultimately our number one captain. She did a good job of encouraging people and keeping them focused.”

In adition to the MVP awards, Del Norte’s libero, Alcala, and junior outside hitter Kaleya Sanchez were also both named to the All-League team and awarded White Stars for their performances this season.

Alcala stepped into the libero role in her senior season and took control of the back row with her strong and steady play, game after game.

“I thought Toni did the best job of any of the liberos in our league this year,” Lorenzi said. “I had total confidence in her serve-receive passing for us and her ability to dig balls and read balls. Every game I had confidence that it was going to be a good game for her.”

Sanchez has been one of the hardest hitters in the league over the past couple years, but Lorenzi said the athletic outside hitter is still just starting to scratch the surface of her potential.

“This is her second White Star. She is a good all around player,” Lorenzi said. “When she hits the ball it counts. It is always spectacular and it excites the crowd. In the second half of the season she was starting to put smarts with the pounding, and I expect her to be able to do that a lot more next year. When she does that she is going to be pretty devastating. She also digs well, she plays defense well, and she blocks well.”

Due to its first-place finish in the league, Del Norte was awarded four White Stars, but Lorenzi said she feels as though senior Tayler Melton and juniors Paula Mello and Katherine Martinez could have just as easily been honored. All three players were officially HDN Big 5 honorable mention selections.

“All of them deserved it,” Lorenzi said. “If they were on any other team they would be getting a White Star. We only have four (White Stars) is the problem.”

It was a little bit of an up and down year for Melton, an outside hitter, in her third year on the varsity. The senior battled with a few injuries throughout the season, but when healthy she was a dangerous cog in the Warriors’ attack.

“Tayler was playing with injuries this year, but when she was feeling better near the end she put the ball on and she did extremely well,” Lorenzi said.

Mello really started to grow into her role as an outside hitter this season in her second year on the varsity.

“Paula became a devastating outside hitter,” Lorenzi said. “She can hit any set, basically. No matter if the ball was way off the net, or wherever it was, I had confidence that Paula was going to go put it on the court. Next year we are hoping that she can hit more holes, but she hits deep and she is pretty effective with that deep hit of hers.”

Martinez joined the varsity team this season, and as a middle hitter she was frequently the shortest player on the front line on either team. That never seemed to faze the junior, however. Despite the size disparity, Martinez was one of the team leaders in blocks throughout the year as she used her mix of speed and athleticism to frustrate opposing hitters.

“Katherine was just an amazing middle hitter,” Lorenzi said. “For her size, she had a lot of blocks and she dug well in the back row.”

Sanchez, Mello, and Martinez will be returning next season, along with fellow juniors Skylar Throop, Ashley Wheelon, and Shelby Horner. But the decorated high school volleyball careers of Del Norte’s four seniors has come to an end.

“I just am appreciative of the seniors and the great four years they have given us,” Lorenzi said. “They have been a great group of girls. They have worked hard and they have stuck with us. They believe in the program, and they believe in
each other.”