Every team could use a grizzled veteran; a steady hand that can weather the storm when things become rocky.
A veteran brings with her experience and maturity that simply cannot be taught.
The Cerritos volleyball team has found such a veteran in setter Monique Gayton.
Gayton, a captain in every sense of the word, has led the Falcons throughout the course of the season.
Over 34 games, she leads the team in assists (239), kill percentage (.511) and is second in blocks (13) and aces (11).
The stats alone are impressive, but what’s remarkable is that Gayton has been able to produce these stats after a six-year hiatus.
In 2003, Gayton shared setting duties for Cerritos during her freshman year.
Rather than return for a second season, she decided to accept a coaching position at La Serna High School.
Over the next six years, Gayton would guide the JV volleyball team at La Serna as well as assist with varsity duties at Santa Fe High School.
Along with coaching, Gayton spent her days teaching preschool.
Although the work was rewarding, she felt that in the long run it was in her best interest to return to school.
“I figured that if I was going to be going to school, I might as well play volleyball while I’m here. I knew volleyball would keep me here,” she said.
The transition from coaching student-athletes to becoming one again has been smooth for Gayton.
“It’s working out well. I’m not working, so I’m able to focus full time on school and volleyball,” she said.
“All the other women are really good about being students first and athletes second. So that makes it easier.”
Head coach Teresa Velazquez is also pleased with Gayton’s dedication to her studies.
“I’m really proud of her. She’s focusing on her classes, which is great. She finished almost a year’s worth of classes in one semester.”
On the court, Gayton has been thrust into a leadership role on a team in which she is four or five years older than her teammates.
Despite this apparent obstacle, she says that finding chemistry with the team was easy because all of her teammates already got along so well.
“It’s difficult being older than the rest of the women. I’m 24 and the rest of my team is 18 or 19, but they are very mature when it comes down to it.”
Gayton sees herself as the type of leader that leads by example. She feels she doesn’t need to be vocal in order to be an effective leader and captain.
“(The team) listens to her and she helps everyone out. She makes sure everyone is focused.”
This focus is just one of the many attributes Gayton has not lost during her time away from playing.
“Everyone says I’m better now than I was before. I know the game better. Volleyball is something that I’m invested in and learning about every day.”
Velazquez is one of the many that feel the time Gayton’s spent coaching has had a positive effect on the whole team.
“She’s more mature now and a solid player than when she played under me before. It’s good for the women to have an older player. She can calm their nerves.”
The maturity, knowledge and leadership experience that Gayton brings to the team is something that will be needed on Wednesday when the Falcons take on El Camino, the back-to-back defending state champions.
“In the conference, I think it’s between us and them. I’m really excited about the game. Hopefully we do well and perform,” Gayton said.
With a veteran like Gayton leading the way, hopes of doing well may quite easily turn into reality.