Even though she’s just 16 years old, volleyball has already opened huge doors for Belen Castillo.
The sport will help pay for her college. The Golden Valley High School junior verbally committed to Cal in November.
Now volleyball is taking her to Costa Rica this summer.
Castillo has been selected to Team USA’s Youth National Team and will represent the U.S. in the 2014 NORCECA Women’s U-18 Continental Championship from June 22-30 in San Jose, Costa Rica. The tournament is a qualifier for the 2015 FIVB Women’s U-18 World Championship.
“I really can’t explain how excited I am,” Castillo said. “I feel really blessed to have this opportunity. I’m excited I get to represent USA for volleyball. It’s going to be really fun.”
Castillo was one of 12 players selected to the team, and she’s one of four middle blockers. At just under 6-foot-2, she’s also the shortest player on the team.
“This kind of legitimizes how talented she is,” Golden Valley coach Matt Thissen said. “She’s been a volleyball gym rat ever since I’ve known her. When her older sister played for me, Belen would always be hanging out in the gym. We’re really proud of her.”
Castillo tried out for the team in Denver in March. She’s worked out with USA Volleyball High Performance, an Olympic development program, for four years. Each summer, she’s made trips to Colorado Springs, Colo., to train.
Many players picked for the Youth National Team, made up of girls who were born in 1998 and 1999, have come out of that program.
“I’ve played with this same group of girls for three years,” said Castillo, who will leave for Denver for nine days of training on June 13 before heading to Costa Rica.
Castillo played outside hitter for Golden Valley last season. She’ll move to middle blocker for Team USA.
Castillo can’t believe the opportunities volleyball has opened for her.
“Obviously, going to Cal, which is one of my dream schools since I was little,” she said. “Volleyball has helped me meet so many amazing people. It’s allowed me to compete at the highest level.”
After winning the Central California Conference championship, Turlock swept the major awards handed out by the conference coaches.
Bulldogs catcher Brett Cumberland was named the Most Valuable Player, Turlock ace Blake Cederlind was named Pitcher of the Year, and Bulldogs first baseman Austin Bush was selected as the Offensive Player of the Year.
The first-team All-CCC pitchers were Atwater’s Ryan Sanchez and Merced’s Jordan Kemps. The first-team infield was Pitman catcher Coleton Horner, Merced first baseman Alex Ortega, Golden Valley second baseman David Vidauri, Pitman third baseman Dakota Spillers and Atwater shortstop Derek Molina.
Pitman’s Colton Evans, Merced’s Tanner McBurney and Turlock’s Alex Pallios were first-team selections in the outfield. Merced’s Josh May earned a first-team honor as a designated hitter and Bears teammate Mitchell Miller was picked as a utility player.
Le Grand senior Carlo Del Real was named the Southern League MVP after hitting .507 with 29 RBIs this season.
Mariposa’s Bodie Vegely was named Offensive Player of the Year and teammate Noah Fluharty was tabbed as Pitcher of the Year.
Earning first-team honors were Le Grand’s Shane Grissom, Juan Gomez and Christian Williams, Mariposa’s Sam Tucker and Levin Fane and Gustine’s Robert Mello.
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or email@example.com.