VOLLEYBALL: Depth could carry Rams to the top

Gavilan breaks after a team cheer during practice Wednesday.

With a roster made up of 14 players coming out of 13 different high schools, the Gavilan College women’s volleyball team has really just started to find some chemistry on the court. But that doesn’t mean the expectations for the 2012 season aren’t just as high for the Rams, who are coming off their third straight Northern California regional playoff appearance.

“It’s never easy to get into the postseason,” said sixth-year head coach Kevin Kramer, whose Rams hit the court for their season opener today against Feather River College. “Our goal every year is to win the conference title, get into the postseason, put together a few wins and be on the brink of making the state tournament.”

That hasn’t happened yet, as Gavilan lost its third straight first-round playoff game last season.

“It’s once in a lifetime that you have a team that really clicks, and so this year we really feel like the stars are all lining up and this is our year,” said sophomore all-conference selection Kayce Skocko. “We’re ready to get into the season and play.”

The Rams return only four players from last year’s 16-10 squad, including Skocko – who racked up 176 kills, 172 digs, 29 aces and 22 blocks last season. Jessica Stofer, who was slated to start last season but, because of injury, red-shirted the season is also back. Live Oak product Alyssa Brusaschetti and former San Benito player Corey Habina are the other returners.

“We’re not labeling people as captains, but based on her experience we hope she steps up and leads, because she knows what it takes at this level,” said Kramer of the Skocko, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter from Watsonville. “We hope she sets the tone for everyone else.”

Everyone else includes a talented crop of incoming freshmen. Setter Sabina Gerard, out of Redlands, is expected to step right in and play a key role for the Rams.

“Great kid. She really understands how to compete from the setting position,” said Kramer of Gerard. “She has the ability to take over a match from the setting position. She’s very smart.”

Gerard has already grown accustomed to the college game.

“Everyone takes it a lot more seriously and we work a lot harder,” said Gerard. “So I like the change a lot. It’s faster and better hitters, better passers.”

The Rams also have a pair of two-sport collegiate athletes in middle Andreinna Castaneda – a 5-11 freshman out of Modesto – and outside hitter Eva Latu – a 5-9 freshman from Seaside. Both girls will play volleyball in the fall and basketball in the winter.

“It’s new for us since this is the first year we’ve had women’s basketball since I’ve been here,” said Kramer, who believes it has only helped with recruiting. “It’s going to be a challenge for me and (women’s basketball coach) Eric Nelson. But we’re going to work well together.”

Latu, who prepped at Alisal High School in Salinas, was the Monterey Bay League girls basketball Player of the Year.

Nobody is more excited to be part of the Gavilan squad than Gilroy High product Karina Daniels – who was a regular spectator at Rams matches and has watched the program grow over the years.

“I’ve been coming to the games since I moved to Gilroy, which was about sixth grade,” said the freshman defensive specialist. “I’ve always loved the program. I loved the coaching staff and I love being a part of it.”

The Rams went 8-2 in the Coast Conference South last season, placing runner-up for the second consecutive season.

“One thing we have this year over previous years is depth. From top to bottom, any one of these kids would be a starter for a majority of the teams in our conference,” Kramer added. “Each kid could turn out to be the best player on our team.”

Kramer did get a glimpse of what his squad is capable of when the Rams played in a round-robin tournament at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo last weekend. Gavilan was one of 15 teams in the field and finished with a 5-2 record, playing seven teams in a one-set format.

“We are a pretty offensive-minded team that wants to compete,” Kramer said. “They are competitive kids.”

Gavilan, which is hosting a three-team tournament that starts today with that match against Feather River at 11 a.m., will play American River on the back end of the doubleheader at 3 p.m.

“I want a banner on that wall so bad,” Skocko said. “We’ve all been working so hard. I just really feel like we deserve it and we all really want it.”

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