0904-We2 volleyball - Gomez.jpg

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Yennifer Gomez can play all over the court for Wetumpka, taking on a bigger role for the Indians this season.

Wetumpka is hoping to take a big step forward as a volleyball program but the Indians have not gotten off a to a great start. However, despite seeing its losing streak grow to four matches last week, Wetumpka is finding plenty of positives to focus on including standout performances from Yennifer Gomez.

Gomez is taking on a bigger role for the Indians during her junior season and that was evident during Thursday’s match against Benjamin Russell. During the high-emotion match, Gomez played a key part in several big points to keep Wetumpka in the match right until the very end.

“She’s a really great versatility player,” Wetumpka coach DeAnna Smith said. “She can play all the way around for me. She sets well, she reads the game, she covers and obviously she can hit. The other girls look to her to be a leader on this team.”

Gomez finished the match with a team-high six kills and she also added six assists, nine digs and two blocks. After the two teams split the first two sets of the match, Wetumpka turned to its big hitters to try to finish the match.

Benjamin Russell jumped out to a 6-3 lead but Gomez was not going to let the Wildcats pull away easily. After a timeout from Smith, Gomez came out with a kill to earn the serve back and she added a block and an ace to give Wetumpka a 10-9 lead in the third set.

“I think I play better under pressure and when we’re down,” Gomez said. “I know we have to get back up but it can be nerve wracking because you don’t know what’s going to happen. When you start losing points, you can get in your head too much so you can’t let that happen.”

Wetumpka could not hold on to that lead and fell 16-14 in the final set but the Indians took plenty of lessons from the experience. Gomez said she and the rest of the team leaders had to step up in the locker room after the match to make sure everyone kept their heads up but she also admitted there was some fun in a match with that kind of intensity and talent on the other side of the net.

“That really hypes us up,” Gomez said. “When you’re playing against a good team, you want to play good too. If they’re hitting well, you want to show off that you can hit just as well.”

The Indians got strong performances across their front row but Ryleigh Hamm, who is often the team’s leading hitter, was not at 100 percent so Gomez and her teammates were needed to pick up the slack.

“That’s critical because you can’t always just put all your eggs in one basket,” Smith said. “Ryleigh has a sore shoulder this week and mentally, the other girls were aware of it so she wouldn’t be swinging as much as normal. We need to have those other leaders step in so we can let everyone know we’re not a one-trick pony.”

Smith said Gomez has shown a lot of improvement during the offseason to pick up on that slack when needed and she is showing off those new skills early. Gomez credited Smith, who is in her first season with the varsity, and she knows there is still plenty of room for more growth.

“Coach Smith really knows what we need to do,” Gomez said. “She gives us the drills we need to get better. Last year, I just don’t think it was our year but this year we feel really good about it.”

Despite the slow start to the season, Gomez said she still has high hopes for the team’s success. She is confident the team can make a run in regionals and she has her eyes set on the state tournament but both Gomez and Smith admit they have a lot of work to do before getting there.

“I’m not sure there is a ceiling for her,” Smith said. “It’s just a matter of if we can put the pieces of our puzzle together. I think Yennifer is one of those key corner pieces we need for our puzzle so I expect her to keep being a leader and a top performer on this team.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.