JUCO Volleyball: Two calls changed Rams’ season

Set up for success Samantha Nydam (right) and Erica Chapa were not slated to be on Gavilan’s volleyball team when the summer began, but Nydam returned for a second year and Chapa transferred in to boost hopes for the team.

GILROY—Over the summer, Kevin Kramer received an early Christmas gift—two of them actually. In a span of two months, the Gavilan College women’s volleyball coach learned one of his top players from last year—outside hitter Samantha Nydam—would be returning for her sophomore year at Gavilan.
In addition, Kramer learned that Erica Chapa—a 2014 San Benito High graduate who attended college last year at San Francisco State—would be transferring to Gavilan. The two players are a big factor why Kramer has high hopes for the Rams to finish strong (they were 5-7 entering Wednesday’s Coast Conference crossover match against City College of San Francisco).
“We might be 5-7, but that’s not a good indication of what we’re capable of,” Kramer said. “It’s probably our worst start since I’ve been here, but it’s also the toughest preseason we’ve ever had. Our six losses have come against teams ranked in the top 15, 16 in the state. Five-and-seven is not that great, but at the same time we have a good feeling of where we’re headed.”
Chapa is a 5-foot-8 setter who played club volleyball at San Francisco State last year. However, the level of play wasn’t up to Chapa’s standards, and she had the itch to play at a competitive level once again. Enter Gavilan. Kramer had kept in touch with Chapa throughout her freshman year—she played on Kramer’s club team during her junior year of high school—and he knew Chapa was itching to play for a college team.
“I had a feeling she wouldn’t be happy to play club,” Kramer said. “Erica is a competitor, and if she’s not competing at a level she feels is up to par to her ability, she’s not content. I was thrilled she came back because very few athletes I’ve coached have that internal drive and competes like she does. It’s a blessing to have her.”
Chapa didn’t enroll at Gavilan out of high school because she wanted to experience the environment of a four-year university. However, club volleyball at San Francisco State didn’t satisfy her competitive juices, leading her back to the South Valley.
“It’s exciting to be back home again because I’ll have a support group able to watch me play,” Chapa said. “My mom (Lydia) will be able to watch me play again, and that makes everything worth it. It’s also exciting because I feel like I’m getting stronger and better, and that’s always motivating. It’s like I have a second chance to do it again and do it right.”
Chapa still enjoyed the university experience and actually waited until the very last day to pay her tuition to attend Gavilan for the fall semester. The lure of playing at a competitive level was simply too good to pass up.
When Chapa receives a solid pass, she’s usually thinking about setting the ball to the two outside hitters or the middle. The action often comes in rapid-fire sequence, so Chapa has to be alert as to who has the hot hand and also look for holes in the defense.
“I’ll go to the strongest hitter and whoever is producing the best that day,” Chapa said. “A lot of it depends on whoever I feel is confident and whoever is in a good mood because we’re kind of an emotional team. The girls who have the strongest mindsets on a particular day are the ones to go to.”
Said Kramer: “Erica is one of the most athletic players I’ve ever had at any position. She can jump, she’s fast and she’s strong.”
Chapa has high expectations for herself, so it’s no surprise her game continues to improve.
“I’m really hard on myself so I expect my absolute best no matter what,” she said.
Chapa and Nydam said chemistry plays a crucial role in developing an efficient offensive attack.
“I love setting Sam because she makes great adjustments,” Chapa said. “She reads the court and sees where the ball needs to go.”
A 5-foot-10 outside hitter out of Sobrato High, Nydam played throughout the off-season, including several months of beach volleyball starting last spring with Gavilan and continuing with summer tournaments around the Santa Cruz area.  
“My passing and serve-receive is way better than last year, but I’m struggling a little bit offensively with hitting and making some not so smart decisions,” Nydam said. “But we’ve been working a lot in practice, and things will get better over time.”
Nydam was set to play volleyball at San Jose State this year when the college notified her in June that one of her classes was not transferable, thus making her ineligible to play this season. Nydam was pretty much a part of the Spartans team, going to the open gym practices and participating in team fundraisers.
Nydam even had a locker space allocated to her, along with a jersey.
“It was one of those things that didn’t work out, but I’m excited to be back at Gav because the girls this year are pretty inspiring,” she said.
A dynamic and powerful hitter, Nydam wants to improve her hitting percentage and stay consistent in every facet of the game. The youngest of three sisters, Nydam grew up playing volleyball in her backyard with her dad, Mike, being
constantly present.
“I remember being so pissed off at him because he was always yelling at me that I was doing something wrong,” Nydam said. “He was a hard-driving parent, so we’d be out there for hours. I was pushed physically and mentally, but obviously it was beneficial in the long run because it made me work hard and develop my game.”
Nydam said she had the most loving mom to balance out her dad’s hard-charging ways.
“My parents are the total opposite,” she said. “If my dad was pushing me, my mom was offering me support. She was the most loving person ever and she still is my emotional strength.”
Nydam credited her dad for helping her to develop toughness and a strong work ethic in her formative years, but now it’s her mom Stacey who provides the inspirational messages daily.
“Mom will send me bible verses throughout the day to keep me going,” Nydam said. “She always keeps me going.”

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