WARNER ROBINS -- It’s a selfless act.
A setter’s main function is to make others look good. A well-placed pass develops into a spectacular kill by a front-line teammate. Momentum shifts. Victory ensues.
An outside hitter for the Houston County volleyball team, senior Ashley Gonzalez benefitted from her share of accurate passes. But that’s nothing compared with the way her family set The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Volleyball Player of the Year up for success.
Taking full advantage of the opportunity Georgia and the United States offer, Gonzalez lives with her aunt and uncle. Manuel and Yesenia Montanez “dropped everything” and moved from Puerto Rico to Warner Robins after Gonzalez’s father Miguel was called back to a job in Ohio. Gonzalez’s mother still lives in Puerto Rico, but Brenda Montanez, wanted her two daughters to remain in Georgia.
“I’ve always been very close to her and her sister because I have no children of my own,” Yesenia Montanez said. “I was asked (to move) and said, ‘Of course.’ Whatever makes them happy. Whatever helps them grow.
“(Manuel) was working, but he also has a tremendous love for them. He was willing to give up everything just to make them happy.”
Meanwhile, the girls still receive plenty of support from their parents. There’s frequent face-to-face contact, either live or via video conferences.
The girls originally attended Warner Robins. When Kaylshla Gonzalez graduated, the Manuel and Yesenia Montanez moved Ashley Gonzalez into the Houston County zone. Then a rising junior, Gonzalez helped the Lady Bears win the GHSA Area 1-AAAA championship.
She continued to grow off the court, as well. Gonzalez spoke almost no English when she arrived from Puerto Rico prior to her freshman year of high school. Now, she’s bilingual and a solid student.
“Moving to Georgia helped her change everything,” Yesenia Montanez said.
A versatile talent, Gonzalez averaged three kills and almost one service ace per game this season. Defensively, she averaged 3.6 digs per game. Her defining moment this season came when she was named MVP of the prestigious Heritage Spikefest in September.
“She can put the ball anywhere it needs to go,” Houston County head coach Maria Huelsman said at the time. “She’s just a really strong all-around player.”
The Lady Bears failed to repeat as Area 1-AAAA champions, but the team did score a dominating, straight-set victory over Jonesboro in the opening round of the Class AAAA tournament. Houston County (32-9) lost to eventual state runner-up Whitewater in the second round.
“Our team got really close this year,” Gonzalez said. “If your team can get along and you get along together, you’ll play on the court together.”
Gonzalez plays club ball with Central Georgia Volleyball Association. She’s hoping to play college volleyball. Just shy of 5-foot-8, Gonzalez isn’t tall enough to play hitter at major colleges, so she is confining her search to small schools.
“I’d play anywhere they’d put me,” Gonzalez said.
Wherever that happens to be, her family won’t be far away.