VOLLEYBALL: Rams reloaded

Gavilan's Melissa Avila sets the ball as Kelsie Asp approaches

Gavilan volleyball returns eight sophomores; season starts with
hard-earned trip to Hawaii
“Mele Kalikimaka” is the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas, but aloha is the Gavilan College women’s volleyball way to greet to the 2011 season – and the forecast appears sunny.

For fifth-year coach Kevin Kramer, looking on the bright side isn’t avoidable at the moment.

The fact that the Rams return eight sophomores from a squad that was runner-up in the Coast Conference (16-9, 8-2) in 2010, qualifying for the Northern California playoffs in the process, is one thing.

But a pair of sunglasses might be in order as the Rams reap the benefits of nose-to-the-grindstone offseason fundraising, as they kick off their campaign toward a third straight playoff appearance.

The Rams opens the season Saturday in Honolulu, scrimmaging against Hawaii Pacific, a four-year school, and unsealing their preseason schedule against Butte College.

“As soon as last season ended we started fundraising right away,” said Melissa Avila, one of the eight returning sophomores. “Being out of our element, it will be a really good bonding experience.”

The Rams did everything from host a youth volleyball camp to a spaghetti feed to selling candy bars, boosting an account from $6,000 to $22,000 in order to fund the excursion.

“We looked at the account back in January. We knew ideally what we needed to make it happen,” Kramer said. “It was 100 percent the girls. They busted their backsides to do this.”

From an on-the-court perspective, the payoff from embarking on the trans-Pacific trip is pocketed and banked in the knowledge the girls can take with them if a future beyond the two-year experience is in the cards, Kramer said.

“The big thing is that we get to go over there and scrimmage a four-year school,” Kramer said. “We walk on the court, then, against a junior college team, there shouldn’t be any intimidation factor.

“The trip in general is obviously a great team-bonding situation, and I think it will help the girls understand what playing college volleyball at that level is all about. Between those aspects it was a no-brainer to make this thing happen.”

Though the beach is always nearby, Kramer assures the trip’s crux is volleyball related.

“This is a business trip,” he said Tuesday following the first of a pair of two-hour practices at Gavilan. “There will be little time for the beach.”

Despite the season beginning in a different place, the final destination remains the same year in and year out – a conference championship.

Along with Avila, Emily Tonascia and Jaclyn Lantis anchor the veteran group as reigning all-conference selections. Kelsie Asp, KC Beadle, Jessica Meade, Avrielle Walker and Brittany Lewis also return.

“You get to grow up together as a team,” Lantis said. “You get to learn about each other on and off the court. It’s a great learning experience.”

With the eight returners holding a year’s worth of experience, and a freshman class all familiar with Kramer or other players through club play or the like, the getting-to-know-you portion of the season has already taken a back seat.

“Nobody is doing this for themselves,” Tonascia said. “Because we have played together for so long, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do this for her and her.’ Even with the girls coming in, most of us have played together before and that’s really exciting.”

Having eight veterans is a bit uncommon for a junior college program with the constant turnover. The Rams faced a similar situation in 2009 as a loaded sophomore class helped lead the Rams to their first postseason berth in program history.

History appears to be repeating itself.

“They all saw ample time on the court last year,” Kramer said. “There is no surprise at what this is going to be like. I can’t imagine a match where not everyone sees time on the court. I mean, there are so many moving parts; there’s not a kid on the roster that I don’t feel comfortable putting in. There are a lot of options.”

Kramer, though, isn’t one to look too far ahead.

“You just can’t,” he said. “We aren’t talking about conference championships or playoffs. If we do what we are supposed to do, those things will take care of themselves.”

Joining the band of sophomores are incoming freshmen Kayce Skocko (outside hitter, Aptos High), Alyssa Brusaschetti (setter, Live Oak), Corey Habina (defensive specialist, San Benito) and Jessica Stofer (middle, Anzar.)

When the Rams return to the mainland, preseason matches against Taft College, Alan Hancock College, Napa College, Delta College and an appearance in the Delta College Classic will carry them into the middle of next month when they make their home debut Sept. 14 against Sacramento City College.

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