Set for the future

Senior shares passion for volleyball with mom

Girls wearing white shirts and high ponytails were dispersed across the gym, running drills and serving balls. Final pre-game jitters escaped as the girls spotted smiling, familiar faces in the stands. Finally reaching the last set of the game, they ignored their sore arms and sweaty hair. They won by 10 points against Lewisville High School on Friday, September 14. This was one of senior Zeni Castillo’s last home games as the setter for the varsity volleyball team.

“With us 10 seniors, it’s kind of weird because we have one last season of high school volleyball where we are in it together,” Castillo said.

As Castillo looks back on her time playing volleyball, she reminisces on nearly a decade of memories. The sport has led her to meeting her best friends and strengthening her bond with her mom, who played a large role in her involvement with volleyball.

From making the varsity team to winning games, Castillo has had many of proud moments over the years. Holding on to the exhilarating feeling of going head to head with rival schools, she is trying to soak in her last few games of high school volleyball.

While Castillo was growing up, tennis balls, ballet shoes and goggles were always scattered across her house as she gazed at her brother going off to practice for the sports he was in. Being a part of a sports minded family gave her a headstart on finding her passion. Castillo’s love for volleyball stemmed from her mom, Samantha Montaño, who has coached and played for over half her life.
Once Castillo reached fourth grade, she decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps and play on her first volleyball team. She played many other sports throughout elementary and middle school including cheerleading, lacrosse, basketball and track. As the seventh grade volleyball tryouts quickly approached, Castillo and Montaño were given the opportunity to explore a new aspect of their relationship. They went from being mom and daughter at home to coach and player on the court.

“It’s like having a coach that is your best friend,” Castillo said. “I felt like I was always able to play my best because I was playing for her.”

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Beads of sweat trickled down 13-year-old Zeni Castillo’s face as her eyes focused on the ball. Her feet were bent, ready to leap into the air when it came her way. As a setter, she is responsible for running offense on the court. The adrenaline kicked in as the Lamar Middle School Division 1 team made their final play, leading them to become the undefeated district champions. Cheers echoed across the gym and the girls gathered into a group hug as the buzzer went off.

“There’s nothing like it,” Castillo said. “That feeling of the adrenaline, of the excitement, and everything so mixed together. It feels like you’re playing for more than just yourself.”

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Having a volleyball coach as a mom has proven to be beneficial for Castillo long after her middle school days. After every game, the mom and daughter duo break down the technical elements. Montaño, always mindful of whether her daughter wants to talk to “mom-mom” or “coach-mom,” helps Castillo learn from her mistakes and commends her for good plays.

“I’m just so proud of her. It’s so great to follow her journey and to help her get where she is,” Montaño said. “Being her mom and her coach, it’s been very special.”

Although Castillo grew up hearing about the wins and losses of her mom’s teams and even was coached by her, she didn’t decide that volleyball was the sport that she loved and wanted to specialize in until eighth grade. By the time she reached high school, she realized that she had to pick one sport to focus on.

“There was just something about volleyball that I couldn’t let go,” Castillo said.

Now, in her final year on the varsity volleyball team, Castillo has found a sisterhood within her teammates. She still maintains a friendship with girls she met five years ago because of their common passion. The best part of the game to Castillo is the girls that she plays with. No matter their relationship outside the sport, they are best friends when they step foot on the court.

For Castillo, this is the closing to her volleyball chapter. Although her mom continued to play throughout college, Castillo has decided that it is time for her to move on. She is still continuing to follow in her mom’s footsteps by attending Texas Tech University where she plans on studying broadcasting or business.

“[My mom] has been my biggest role model and I wouldn’t say that it’s because of volleyball, but that’s just the relationship that we had,” Castillo said. “Our close relationship has grown because of the sport.”