An aura of camaraderie swept through Bud Ottmar Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday night as the Gavilan College women’s volleyball team hosted De Anza College on Sophomore Night in Gilroy.
Gavilan players wore their emotions in their hair in the form of hand-crafted ribbons in honor of their fellow student-athletes – Davontea Johnson, Billy Heard and Andrel Gaines – the three Rams basketball players injured in a two-car wreck early Sunday morning. Gaines remains on life support Thursday morning, while Johnson is recovering at home and Heard continues to improve at the hospital.
A moment of silence for the three prior to first serve put the night in perspective, and the inspired play of the Rams turned the evening into a celebration of triumph, athletics and life as Gavilan swept the Dons 25-21, 25-19, 25-21 in the Rams’ regular-season home finale.
“When we got into practice Tuesday, we had to flip a switch with the way we were thinking. It had to be, ‘our friends wouldn’t want us to do anything less than our best.’ That powered a lot of tonight. It’s the least I can do for (Johnson, Heard and Gaines),” sophomore Emily Tonascia said.
Tonascia, one of eight sophomores honored in a pre-match ceremony, led the way with seven kills and three blocks as the Rams did what they needed to do to get the victory.
“It’s like all teams are supporting each other. Davontea, Billy and Andrel are three of our biggest fans. They come to all our games, so it was really cool, since they couldn’t be here, that the rest of the basketball team made up for it,” said Tonascia, who with the rest of the team, visited the players in the hospital Monday. “Most of the soccer team was here, the softball girls, some of the baseball guys are here. I mean, we all have something in common, so we might as well be together.”
The Rams received extra support from their loudest fan base; about 75 students from the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative (BAWSI) Girls program at Rod Kelley, Glen View and El Roble Elementary Schools, were in attendance screaming and cheering at the tops of their lungs with every Rams’ point.
“When the BAWSI girls are here you feel like a rock star,” Tonascia said.
The Rams (16-8 overall, 8-2 Coast Conference South) clinched second place and their third straight playoff bid last Wednesday but hadn’t been on the court much since.
“Realistically, we haven’t played volleyball in a week. We practiced (Tuesday) and it was enough to wipe the dust off,” Rams head coach Kevin Kramer said. “I told the girls before, ‘how ever you do it, just get it done.’
“If anything tonight was entertaining and I think that’s what this place needed,” Kramer continued. We had a great turnout from the other sports and other coaches. It’s really what (Gavilan) can be. I think if we can use this unfortunate situation just to make us understand what this place is and what it means to people, I think this place can go in the right direction in every aspect.”
Sophomores KC Beadle and Kelsie Asp finished with six and four kills, respectively, and fellow sophomore Avrielle Walker contributed 14 digs. Sophomore libero Jackie Lantis, however, may have provided the highlight of the night.
With the Rams ahead 19-18 late in Game 2, Lantis chased down a wayward bump on a broken play, taking her about three feet past the end line. Facing away from the net, Lantis muscled the ball, with a one-armed upward swing, over the net for a point. The improbable sequence brought the crowd to its feet and sparked a Rams’ 6-1 run to the set victory.
“Holy cow. I told her, ‘it was either going to go over because you hit it so hard, or you were going to put it right into your own face. I’m glad it wasn’t in your face,” Kramer said.
Sophomore Jessica Meade was slotted into the starting lineup at outside hitter and promptly contributed a pair of kills in the opening game.
Jessica has been battling injury and, ‘what’s my role, where do I play?’ And really, that’s her role – where ever we need her,” Kramer said. “And I can’t tell you how many times she has come through here her entire career.”
NOTES: The Rams fought through the distraction of sophomore setter Melissa Avila departing in Game 2 with an apparent left ankle injury, Avila is expected to be back Friday when the Rams travel to Foothill College. “We will get her going,” Kramer said.
Sophomores honored: Emily Tonascia, Melissa Avila, Kelsie Asp, KC Beadle, Avrielle Walker, Jessica Meade, Jackie Lantis and Brittany Lewis.
The evening began with three-time Super Bowl champion and former San Francisco 49ers tight end Brent Jones delivering the “first serve.” Jones was invited to participate in a pre-match conversation and meet-and-greet, sharing his personal experiences on raising two daughters who are passionate about sports, as well as discuss the importance of girls having positive female role models in the sports community.