Volleyball star signs with Southern Utah
For The Madera Tribune
Madera’s Isabella Saucedo shows off the flag of her new school next year — Southern Utah University — after signing her National Letter of Intent on Nov. 11.
With the COVID-19 pandemic in the background, one of the most dynamic volleyball players over the past four seasons has signed her National Letter of Intent to Southern Utah University.
Madera Coyotes volleyball standout Isabella “Bella” Saucedo put pen to paper on National Signing Day on Nov. 11 to play volleyball for the Div. I school. However, instead of her dream of signing in front of family and friends on the Madera High School campus, she was relegated to signing at home with her family.
“It wasn’t hard to get a scholarship during this time because I was already committed from last summer,” she said. “The most frustrating thing for me was that I couldn’t have the experience I really wanted to have. My freshman year, I told Coach (Meghan) Haas I was going to be on the stage signing my letter. We both laughed. Since I was a freshman to when I got verbally committed, that was what I was looking forward to. I was gravely disappointed that I didn’t get that. I know I could fake a signing, but people already know I’m signed.”
“I’m sad for her that she didn’t get the school experience of being in the cafeteria and signing in front of her family and friends,” Haas said. “As a freshman, she came up to me after watching a signing and told me that’s going to be me. She knew exactly what she wanted from the beginning and worked hard to get there.”
On the bright side of things, in what normally would be a Valley Championship week for volleyball, Saucedo has an entire season to look forward to, hopefully, in the spring.
“I’m hoping very much that there’s a season,” Saucedo said. “For the past three seasons, I have been standing in a line waiting for the seniors to come out. I have been making posters for these girls for three years and I don’t get a poster.”
“She’s going to be a four-year varsity player,” Haas said. “It’s rare to have a kid that can make the team at a freshman, let alone play. She was a contributor then. She did a really good job as a freshman to sit back and learning from the girls and doing her part. She didn’t try to do too much. As she has gotten older and more experienced, she has been able to be that person for other girls. They look for her for guidance. We’ve been very lucky to have her.”
When or if the County/Metro Athletic Conference season begins, opponents might be holding a Senior Night just for Saucedo knowing they won’t have to face her any longer.
“They are going to be ecstatic when she leaves,” Haas said. “She’s one of those players from the Valley that people are going to remember. Hopefully, if she sticks with what she is doing, she will have a successful volleyball career. I hope she is able to go to college to experience life and get the education she wants so she can give back, as well. She’s a force to be reckoned with on the court. She’s one they hone in on when we play. That’s good for her and it pushes her to be better. She has to be creative in her hits when facing blocks. We’ve tried to instill that in her as the year’s have gone by. She’s had to deal with that her entire high school career. It has made her better and stronger.”
From her freshman year, Saucedo’s No. 1 goal was to get that Div. I scholarship and now she is relieved that she reached her goal.
“It feels pretty good,” she said. “I’ve been working pretty hard trying to make sure that I am able to play at a Div. I level. I couldn’t have been here or given a chance if not being a part of a program at Madera High. As advanced as it is, it’s pretty amazing over there. Having a chance to play for a team in Modesto, a team in Ripon, just getting those opportunities, is really the reason I am able to sign to today. I give it all to the coaches. I know I’m going to practice and putting in the time. At the end of the day, it comes down to if you listen to you coaches. That’s all you have to do.”
She also received offers from Concordia University and San Jose State, but chose Southern Utah because of her familiarity with their coaching staff.
“I fell in love with the campus at Southern Utah,” she said. “San Jose State is a great college. I went to their camp and it didn’t feel like a place I could see myself comfortable for four years. The coaches at Southern Utah attracted me there. They are husband and wife and are great people. They took me under their wing when I was a freshman. They told me that I shouldn’t be playing middle. They told me to go to the outside and go from there. Luckily, I was able to put my big girl pants on and set into gear to become a strong outside hitter.”
Saucedo opened their eyes by playing out of position at a tournament.
“I got on their radar through a Las Vegas tournament,” she said. “I was with my team, Rage, at the time. I was playing middle. They looked at me and said I was so athletically inclined, but so short to be playing middle. They saw the hops, but wanted to see what else I could do.”
Saucedo carries a 3.52 grade point average and is still deciding on her major.
“I am thinking about chemistry to become an orthodontist or health science to be a veterinarian,” she said.
Saucedo had the advantage of having someone in her family lay down the foundation and print out the road map to success. Saucedo says that her aunt, Linda (Saucedo) Ortega told her how to talk and get out of her comfort zone to talk to coaches.
“Without her, I was very shy in my freshman year,” Saucedo said. “I didn’t like talking to coaches. I just felt uncomfortable, as I should be as a 14-year-old. She definitely gave me a lot of pointers of what to say, how to say it, how to act and what to do. She also told me if you are going to play for a college, you have make sure you are committed because you can’t accept a scholarship and then come back and say you don’t want to play anymore. As soon as you sign off, you have to say you are in it for the long haul. I am in this to win championships, to put my name on the board and create new and, possible, higher records.”
However, Ortega saw Saucedo’s potential at a young age.
“Early on, I could tell she was talented,” Ortega said. “I wanted her to use her talent in athletics as a tool to get into college. My point was never for her to be so focused to think about athletics. I wanted her to be able to understand that she could do something with it. She can make it work and benefit for her. Whether she takes my advice, I don’t know about that. I am very proud of how mature she is. I take a lot of pride in being able to show her the dedication it takes to play.”
Now that Saucedo is signed, the next argument will be who is the better volleyball player.
Ortega was an All-North Yosemite player at Madera in both volleyball and softball. She went to CSU Los Angeles from 1997-2000. She is ranked ninth in school history in kills, first in hitting percentage in a match, sixth in hitting percentage in a season, sixth in hitting percentage in a career, seventh in solo blocks in a career, eighth in assisted blocks in a season, fourth in assisted blocks in a career and fifth in total blocks in a career. She was a first team All-American in 2000, an AVCA All-Region first teamer in 1998 and 2000 and a CCAA Player of the Year in 2000. She also received the school’s Billy Jean King Award presented to the female student-athlete with the best athletic achievement.
“Bella should end up becoming the better player,” Ortega said. “What I and my family started was a stepping stone. My wish is for her to be better. Right now, at my age, I’m the better player. When she came here for a volleyball clinic, even when Bella was an eighth grader, she had it. As the years progressed, we can see her develop. Her parents made a lot of sacrifices for her to play in elite clubs. Her and I go back and forth all the time. It will be amazing to see Bella reach All-American level at the college level.”
However, Saucedo’s high school resume looks similar with league recognition. She was on the County/Metro Athletic Conference first team for two years and the CMAC MVP last year. She has been on the All-Madera Tribune team since her freshman year and is a two-time MVP. She is also a two-time scholar athlete and is 28-2 in three years in the CMAC.
“We will always go back and forth to who is the better player,” Saucedo said. “At the end of the day, she said she jokes about being the better player, but she said I was the better player. She said people had to push me to be where I had to be. But, you push yourself.”
Saucedo has been able to look back and has seen the growth of her freshman season to where she is today, signed to a Div. I school.
“It’s pretty Cloud 9-ish,” she said. “You only want to put yourself up for success. At some point in every athlete’s mindset, you think how good are you, really. As soon as you set a bar, you have to tell yourself to reach it. That’s the only way to succeed. Even in academics, it’s I’m going to get above a 3.5 this year. Once you set that goal and you know you can reach it, reaching it is like the best feeling in the world. When you reach your goal, you think to yourself ,how much farther can I put myself. How much pressure can I put on myself to outside my comfort zone and how much success is that going to be for me?”
“I am so proud of the player she has developed into,” Ortega said. “She has a presence about her. I hope she learns to take what she learns on the court and applies that to college and even when she gets her first job.”
“She is still really young and has some growing to do, but that’s the exciting part,” Haas said. “As a high schooler, she has done a great job in that leadership role, especially as a follower. To be a good leader, you have to have people that are going to follow. She has been the epitome of a follower in the best way learning from the people that have come before her from an emotional side of things, a mental side of things and physically, she has been an elite athlete. There’s more to volleyball than just the talent and she’s learned that as she’s gotten older. She’s been huge for us.”
“My freshman year, I was so shy,” Ortega said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody. Now, I don’t even care. If you don’t want to talk to me, I will talk your ear off. It’s so amazing through my high school career, I had so many others to look up to. My freshman year, I had Hallie Page. My sophomore year, I looked up to all of them. My junior year, it was definitely Mariyah Alvarez. We were in sync. She taught me so many things. She always held me accountable for things I did, not only on the court, but off the court.”
Now, Saucedo is hoping there will be a season to build even more success for the Madera Coyote volleyball program.
“It’s so amazing how strong of a team Madera has,” she said. “It’s not me, at all. We have so many talented girls at that school that it’s incredible. The way we’ve bonded over the years just makes our team that much better. Even if someone has a bad game, we have someone that will step up.”