On a hot, sunny day last weekend in Phoenix, Nayeli Gonzalez slipped on headphones to line dance in a gymnasium packed for a premier high school volleyball tournament.
“Everyone looks at us,” Gonzalez said. “We do it every tournament.”
It may bewilder opponents, but the warmup works. The Cornerstone Christian (Texas) Warriors, who are ranked No. 3 in the latest Just Women’s Sports volleyball team rankings, won the tournament, defeating Mira Costa 2-1 (25-23, 26-28, 15-8) in the championship match. Gonzalez, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter, finished with 65 kills and 21 blocks, earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.
So far this season, she’s recorded 533 kills, averaging 4.4 per set, with a kill percentage of 51.6 and a hitting percentage of .380.
“She’s a security blanket. You know what you’re going to get,” Cornerstone Christian coach Mike Carter said. “You know she’s going to deliver, along with her teammates, and give us an opportunity to be successful in every match.”
Volleyball: @ccs_warriors won 68-team NIKE Tourney of Champions in Phoenix, beating California's Mira Costa 25-23, 26-28, 15-8 in final & 2021 mythical national champ Marymount (Calif.) in semis. @gracecarrollvb @kaia_thiele @busserylee @tay2anderson @nayeli3914 @alyssamanitzas pic.twitter.com/NcERJokxMq— SA_terrence1 (@sa_terrence1) October 2, 2022
Volleyball: @ccs_warriors won 68-team NIKE Tourney of Champions in Phoenix, beating California's Mira Costa 25-23, 26-28, 15-8 in final & 2021 mythical national champ Marymount (Calif.) in semis. @gracecarrollvb @kaia_thiele @busserylee @tay2anderson @nayeli3914 @alyssamanitzas pic.twitter.com/NcERJokxMq
Gonzalez started volleyball in sixth grade at the request of her older sister.
“She made me practice,” Gonzalez said about her sister. “I actually struggled a lot with passing. I’d get upset with her. I’d tell her I don’t want to play. She’d tell me, ‘You have to do it.’”
In two short years, things started to change. Gonzalez moved to a bigger club, realizing volleyball was her sport. One year later, she envisioned herself as a Division I college athlete.
Next year, she’ll make her childhood dream a reality. She has committed to play at Iowa State University. Gonzalez has a big family, and when she began searching for the right college program, she wanted a family-like atmosphere. Early in the recruiting process, the Iowa State volleyball staff welcomed the Gonzalez family with open arms.
“They took such good care of my siblings,” Gonzalez said. “They were sweet and patient with them. They’re just loving, and I felt I would be at home there.”
In just two weeks, Gonzalez’ high school career will end. On Oct. 8, she’ll take the court one last time as a Warrior, and in the time she has left, she hopes to leave a legacy that extends beyond the boundaries of the court.
“I want to finish it off with everyone knowing I love them, and I had the best four years of my life here,” Gonzalez said. “As soon as that game finishes, I hope they think of me and be like, ‘Hey, she was the one who helped me through this. She had that energy, she had that spunk, she had the mentality for us to keep going.’”
Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.