Quick Take:

With the Harbor High School volleyball team off to a perfect start in Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League play and headed for a rivalry showdown Thursday night with fellow league unbeaten Santa Cruz High, seniors Gwen Grigsby and Holly Pendergraft are Lookout’s Athletes of the Month for September.

Whether it’s on the hardwood, the sand or the classroom, Harbor High School seniors Gwen Grigsby and Holly Pendergraft, both 17, are diligently giving their best. The seniors have the Pirates girls volleyball team undefeated in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League.

“What makes each great is their leadership and their push to leave the jersey in a better place than when they arrived at the school,” said Harbor volleyball coach Matthew Schutz. “Both are skilled athletes, are steady presences on the court and pleasures to be around on a daily basis.”

Grigsby and Pendergraft were born on the same day and have been friends since the age of 9 when they played soccer together. Through the years their bond has strengthened. Grigsby, a libero, knows exactly where to place the ball to find Pendergraft, an outside hitter. Their chemistry has helped the Pirates outscore opponents by 16 sets this season.

“I know what to do to help her play her best and she knows what to do to help me play at my best and so it’s just really nice to have that connection,” Grigsby said.

While COVID-19 canceled games and seasons all over the nation in 2020, including that volleyball fall indoor season, Grigsby and Pendergraft took full advantage, teaming up together on Harbor’s beach volleyball team. As freshmen, they were the Pirates’ top-seeded beach squad and went up against the top schools in the county, including student-athletes who were older and committed to Division I college programs.

Harbor High volleyball players Holly Pendergraft (left) and Gwen Grigsby have known each other since they were 9.
Harbor High volleyball players Holly Pendergraft (left) and Gwen Grigsby have known each other since they were 9. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

“We were playing against UCLA, Cal and Hawaii commits,” Pendergraft said. “For me, that was just really scary but I think that that experience really brought us together. So it was a good start for our relationship throughout high school volleyball.”

When the pair’s sophomore season rolled around in 2021, they were ready for indoor volleyball. Harbor went 9-3 and finished third in the SCCAL before reaching the tournament finals, where the Pirates lost to Santa Cruz High.

Harbor went 2-2 against the Cardinals that season, and again went 2-2 the following season, Grigsby and Pendergraft’s junior season. The Pirates again went 9-3 in the SCCAL last season, and reached the second round of the Northern California playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“We are more skilled this season in addition to having a chip on our shoulder after two consecutive third-place finishes,” Schutz said. “The girls are more mature and remember what third place feels like. Both of these factors are pushing us in practice daily.”

Pendergraft is a captain and is the first one in the gym each day. When practice is over and everyone has left, she is still in there, the last one to leave. She takes advantage of every minute of the day, taking seven classes, all of which are Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate offerings. She is still in the application process for college and wants to study nursing.

Grigsby is committed to play beach volleyball at California State University Bakersfield and has also taken her fair share of AP and IB classes. Any day she isn’t in the gym playing indoor volleyball, she is at Main Beach, playing beach volleyball and working to get better. Both have grade-point averages above 4.0.

“We’re really diligent and focused on our schoolwork,” Grigsby said.

The grind of this season has already reached high peaks for the 14-6 Pirates, including a victory over Soquel and UCLA commit Jessie Dueck in the second league game of the season in five sets.

“One of our losses from last year was Soquel, so it’s definitely good to beat them this year,” Pendergraft said. “I know that there’s kind of a rivalry between Soquel, Santa Cruz and Harbor. So it’s always fun to beat them in those games.”

It’s the first time the Pirates have opened the league season 4-0 since Pendergraft and Grigsby started at Harbor. They’ll put that record on the line at home Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against the rival Cardinals, who are off to a 5-0 SCCAL start.

“It’s always really fun to play Santa Cruz,” Pendergraft said. “Crowdwise it’s always a big turnout, it’s probably our biggest game of the year. I know a lot of people on the team are looking forward to that and we all have friends on Santa Cruz. Personally for me, I have four of my friends from club or indoor on that team, maybe even more. It’s really competitive and it’s a really high-speed game.”

Lookout Santa Cruz Athletes of the Month are selected by Lookout and the Reggie Stephens Foundation for the athlete’s exemplary skill and character on and off the field.

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Follow Thomas Frey on: Twitter. Thomas comes to Lookout with eight years of high school sports reporting in California under his belt.Covering sports in Santa Cruz County has been a dream of his since...