TRIPLE THREAT: Bonita Volleyball Boasts New Leadership, But Same Great Winning Tradition

September 1, 2017
Share this story:

DIGGING VOLLEYBALL: Front, from left, Jackie Grosswurt (JV), Kim Collinge, Chloe Chin, Leila Low, Dana Burton and Katie Jensen. Back, from left, Megan Skinner (JV), Melissa Joyce, Sara Schmitt, Destiny Crowder, Nike Capizzi and Jocelyn Kurnik. Not pictured Natalie Hartman.

LA VERNE, California, September 1, 2017– It’s been a few years since La Verne Online has covered Bearcats volleyball when the team featured the likes of outstanding players like Victoria Dennis, Briana Kennedy, Riley Inman, Kassandra Mejia, Melissa Katherman, Danielle Lines, Tasha Hui, Olivia Rioseco, Ashley Albo, Kaitlyn White, Sarah Bruchet and Marissa Paiz Kurey (those were the days, my friends), but LVO is back and just as excited about extending coverage to a new crop of players on the varsity, junior varsity and frosh led by their respective coaches Eli Cuenca, Sarah Bruchet and Jaime Kons.


Coach Eli Cuenca

Eli Cuenca comes to Bonita after piloting Maranatha in Pasadena for the last three years.

Whether he wins a game all year, he’s already come out a winner because he’s cut his commute time from Redlands to Pasadena to Redlands to La Verne. So if you see the coach walking around with a big smile and it’s not after winning a big match, you’ll know why.

But another reason he has cause to smile is he has a junior-packed team, which means he’ll be able to watch his team grow and mature over the next two seasons while putting his firm imprint on his junior varsity and frosh programs.

The players have a coach who loves the sport and someone who doesn’t just fawn over his star players.

“This is not a sport where you have a dominant player who gets 20 kills a night and leads your team,” he said. “If you don’t have another person setting and passing, you’re not going to be successful, and if you don’t have someone defending, that star player is going to be obsolete.

“You have to have successful unit as a whole. Teams that are successful are a complete group. They have a group of athletes who play as a unit.”

Coach Cuenca has the athletes. About 60 students tried out for the program, but only a dozen of those made varsity. About equal number made the junior varsity and frosh teams. “We’re always inviting girls to try out,” Cuenca said.

What keeps coach Cuenca up at night is not lack of athletic talent, but varsity game experience.

“We only have two or three returning varsity players, so we’re young, but a month or so into the season, our younger players will lose that “inexperienced” label.

Early in the season, Cuenca expects the strength of his team to come from the middle, anchored by junior Niki Capizzi. “She’s definitely a strength for us,” Cuenca said.

Another scorer is Sara Schmitt, just a sophomore. “She’s young,” the coach admitted, “but she’s starting to put some balls away for us.”

The coach also likes junior Katie Jensen, playing her first varsity season. “She provides us some ball control and a good presence on the court,” Cuenca said.

Defensively, Natalie Hartman looks to be a standout, when she’s on the court. In her absence, Melissa Joyce has been playing big minutes.

But for Cuenca’s team to win consistently, he’s going to need the contribution of all 11 or 12 players on his roster, not including the occasional freshman or sophomore player asked to fill in.

Claremont appears to be the early league favorite, but the league will be tough top to bottom with the likes of Glendora, Ayala, and South Hills filling the schedule.

Despite the obstacles in the way, Cuenca is an optimist. He’s well aware Bonita played itself into the quarterfinals last year. “We want to make another deep run,” he said.

Well aware Bonita graduated a lot of seniors last year, he’s not calling 2017 a rebuilding year.

“We’re in the familiarization process,” he said.

Whether the wins become familiar or the losses do, only time will tell, but Cuenca likes his position, now just a short drive from Redlands, greeted each day by a junior-heavy squad eager to show they can learn on the job.


Chloe Chin

Sara Schmitt

Kimberly Collinge

Leila Low

Katie Jensen

Melissa Joyce

Dana Burton

Niki Capizzi

Destiny Crowder

Natalie Hartman

Jocelyn Kurnick

Junior Varsity

It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, Sarah Bruchet was playing for coach Adriana Contreras at Bonita. Now she’s the one coaching the girls, molding them into strong student athletes like she became.

She’s in a good spot. For one, she used to play for head varsity coach Eli Cuenca, as well. So she knows how he thinks and the types of techniques and play he wants the girls to execute.

But don’t think for a second that the 21-year-old coach doesn’t have her own methods and ideas about the game. After all, she’s majoring in neuroscience at University of California at Riverside.

She also got her AA in American sign language and has taken loads of child psychology classes.

Coach Sarah Bruchet

So she’s a communicator. “I still remember my high school days very vividly, so I know what these girls are thinking,” she said. With her insights, she’ll know what buttons to push to keep her players engaged and giving their best.

Her advice to her players is no-nonsense. “Work hard, play harder in the gym,” she said during a Thursday break in practice.

It’s a philosophy that has served her well. She wants to be a surgeon one day, and to accomplish that will take maximum effort. If the team follows her example, they should experience an outstanding season.



Frosh coach Jaime Kons played for Lutheran before going on to represent the U.S. Deaf Olympic Volleyball team and the University of La Verne for four years. This is her first season as a head coach, but she’s been playing the sport since third grade.

“I love the sport so I wanted to coach the girls,” she said.

She majored in communications and computer science but when she found she wasn’t around the sport of volleyball and around young people, she lacked her usual fire and spark.

So now the passion is back, but she’s wondering whether she’ll have any hair left by season’s end.

Coach Jaime Kons

“They make me want to pull my hair out,” said Jaime, who ironically is known for her different shades of hair. On the day of our interview, she was sporting purple locks.

“Why not change things up?” she asked. “The first time I colored it, everybody loved it,” and now her hair has become her signature feature.

Rather than have her players troll her hairstyle, she would rather have them learn what she’s teaching them. She’s seen early signs of that, and know that she will have plenty of time over the next four years to work with them.

“To see them put in the work and commitment and actually execute in games what we’ve practiced is really a great feeling,” she said. “When they begin to connect the dots, wow.

“They’re my babies, they’re good and we have a really good team.”


Coverage sponsored by Colleen Bennett, longtime Realtor with Sotheby’s Int’l Realty (DRE#01013172), 626.344.0907.  Colleen is also the author of The Real Dirtt, the Southland’s most comprehensive column on all things real estate. Have a real estate question, she’s got the answer!

Leave a Reply