El Paso Times feature Sunspots

The Times recently covered the successes of the El Paso Sunspots 18 squad.

El Paso Sunspots shine on volleyball court, in class

By Steve Escajeda \ Special to the Times

The high school volleyball season may have ended last November, but things are just heating up for some of the best high school volleyball players in the area.

The El Paso Sunspots, a club team made up of 18-year-old players from the area, will compete at the 2010 USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships in Reno, Nev., June 24-July 3.

The Sunspots qualified for the national tournament by capturing the Sun Country Regional that was held in El Paso in March.

“It’s funny, our goal at the beginning of the season was not necessarily to qualify for nationals,” said coach Eddie Portillo.

“Our biggest goal was to get the girls playing at the level that — by the time their club season was over — they wouldn’t go to college and just sit on the bench.

“Meanwhile, they kept getting better. We got very good and the next thing you know we’re out there competing with some of the top teams in Dallas and throughout the state.”

The national tournament, which will be held at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, will be tough enough without the distractions this time of year brings for high school seniors.

“The most difficult part about coaching 18-year-olds is that they have so many things going on and they’re already thinking about going to college,” Portillo explained. “But the girls have decided that they are going to put all their effort and focus on the national tournament.”

And the Sunspots have more than their share of players going to college.

“Every player on the team will play volleyball in college somewhere next year, except for one player who chose to go to college on an academic scholarship,” said team Director Jeff Farmer.

“We give the kids a chance to play the game all year round and naturally they get much better when they play the game all the time,” said Farmer, who has been with the program for 10 years.

One of the Sunspots’ players will be returning to continue her volleyball career at UTEP after the national tournament.

“I feel honored because I come from a very small school from a very small town and scholarships aren’t offered very often here because all the athletes have to play many sports and they don’t usually get to shine in just one,” said Victoria Valencia, the San Elizario senior who recently signed with UTEP.

“I’m very confident because this is our last club season. Next year we’ll all be off to college,” Valencia said. “Most of the girls we’ll meet at national have already signed with (NCAA) Division I schools so we know it will be challenging. But I think we’re up to it.”

Valencia is ranked third in her class academically with a grade average of 100 and will study physical therapy at UTEP.

Another academic standout on the team has earned an academic scholarship to Baylor.

“This is my third trip to nationals and most of the other girls have been there once or twice so we’re pretty confident going in,” said Coronado senior Jen Misenhimer.

“We’ve meshed really well from our first day together,” Misenhimer said. “I’ve played with almost every single girl on the team at one time or another before and that helps us a lot at big tournaments.”

Misenhimer, who chose to attend Baylor for academics rather than continue with volleyball, carries a 99.3 GPA and will major in biology and plans to attend pre-med classes.

“For me, this is the last tournament I’ll ever play so it means so much,” said Misenhimer. “I consider these girls more than teammates, they’re my family.”

Portillo also would like to see his players succeed for more than just what they give him on the court.

“It’s a great honor to coach this team,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching these girls grow from 12-year-old kids, who can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, to seeing them today, succeeding and on the verge of going on to better things in the future.”