In the months leading up to her sophomore year at Paso Robles High, Tess Rountree didn’t quite foresee herself becoming a dominant outside hitter.
She had been a middle blocker for the Bearcats’ freshman volleyball team, but that soon changed.
“All summer I practiced with varsity and I was going to be on varsity, but I played middle,” Rountree said. “And then the season comes around and I was like, ‘Mom, we have three middle blockers, and we need an outside hitter, and the coach says I’m going to play outside. And I was like, ‘I don’t know if I will.’ She was like, ‘You will.’
“And here I’ve been for three years at outside,” Rountree reflected. “I like it a lot better, actually.”
With good reason.
The 6-foot senior has been named The Tribune’s San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year after averaging 4.1 kills per set, which ranked fifth in Division 1A of the CIF-Southern Section.
She also led the PAC 7 in hitting percentage, at 28.1 percent, and aces, with 47 in 68 sets (a 0.7 average) while leading Paso Robles through a 21-7 season that culminated with a second-round playoff appearance.
“She really matured as a leader,” Bearcats coach Terry Gutierrez said. “Honestly — and I think everybody knows — without her, we wouldn’t have been where we ended up.”
Along the way, the Bearcats swept four-time defending PAC 7 champion Arroyo Grande, and ended up tying the league’s top playoff seed, San Luis Obispo, atop the PAC 7 standings at 10-2.
In the Bearcats’ last match, they managed to throw something of a scare into Marymount, the eventual division champion and ESPN RISE’s 39th-ranked team nationally, falling 25-22 and 25-23 in the final two sets after a 25-14 first-set loss.
“I was really proud of our team,” said Rountree, already named the PAC 7 MVP. “At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t exactly sure how we would do. We came out really strong at the end, and we played really well. We worked hard.”
In the second milestone victory over Arroyo Grande, Rountree had arguably her best match of the season, with 23 kills (on 50 attempts) in a sweep at home.
“I thought she was the difference for Paso,” Arroyo Grande coach Ernie Santa Cruz said. “Tess kind of carried that team.”
In Rountree’s junior year, the Bearcats won a set in a 3-1 loss to Arroyo Grande. It snapped what had been a 104-set league winning streak by the Eagles.
“It was really exciting,” Rountree said. “That was a huge step. We had a lot of returning people who were like, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ We had that kind of momentum.”
Rountree’s senior season followed all-league first-team honors in both her sophomore and junior years. She also led the PAC 7 in kills per set those two seasons, with 2.8 as a sophomore and 3.4 as a junior. The latter year was highlighted by a 24-kill match (on 40 attempts) during a 3-1 victory over Atascadero.
A significant factor in Rountree’s overall athleticism at the net was her track and field background.
This past spring, she broke the Paso Robles record in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 6 inches at the PAC 7 championships. She was just a quarter-inch off the 7-year-old meet record in that event.
Soon afterward, Rountree had a 5-4 clearance at the Southern Section Division 3 finals, finishing as the top alternate for the section’s Masters meet, which then sends placers on to the overall state championships.
Her goal for this upcoming track and field season, she said, is to get over the bar at 5-8 or better.
“I’m really determined to get it,” she said.
Rountree, who has a cumulative grade-point average of 4.4, has been accepted into UC Davis as a civil engineering major.
“She’s very much like a Type-A personality type of person,” Gutierrez said, “so she’s her own worst enemy as far as pushing to perfection. When she doesn’t perform at an A-plus level, she starts just really getting on herself.
“I think her ability to play all-around anywhere on the court was probably the most amazing thing,” Gutierrez added. “At the end, it was almost like having a coach on the court.”