Gavilan coach, players pull double duty

It was double duty for two Gavilan college athletes and one coach during the spring sports season. Kevin Kramer coached the Rams softball team and beach volleyball squad, and Lexi Chavarria and Kaitlyn Siaz played both sports. Safe to say, the last couple of months have been extremely busy for the trio.

“It’s been hard on my body, but I feel like I’m handling it pretty well,” said Chavarria, a 2016 San Benito High graduate. “I definitely wouldn’t have succeeded if it wasn’t for Kevin because he really works with me and is flexible with the times I can come to practice. He also understands if I’m feeling sore one day, it’s OK to take a day off. Otherwise, my body probably wouldn’t have been able to get through an entire season.”

It was a successful season for Gavilan’s beach volleyball and softball teams for a variety of reasons. The beach volleyball team recently concluded its season, but the two-woman tournament is ongoing. The Rams’ No. 1 team of Mikeila Banda and Haley Leifheit (San Benito) and No. 3 squad of Katia Dizon (Anzar) and Emily Jensen (formerly Kortsen, a former San Benito standout) advanced to the California Community College State Tournament on Friday.

The softball team recorded only five wins, but the most important victory was Gavilan fielding a team at all after the program was in danger of folding in the off-season after it couldn’t get a coach for several months following the 2017 season. Kramer, fellow coaches and the Gavilan athletics administration refused to let that happen.

Kramer deserves a lot of credit, as he took the position having never coached softball before. But he surrounded himself with experienced and knowledgeable softball coaches, and pretty much left the Xs and Os stuff to them. Kramer, meanwhile, took care of the overall management of the program—paperwork, travel arrangements, facility maintenance and all of the little things that need to be taken care of behind the scenes—making for a nice combination.

“When we decided to make this happen, I told the AD (Athletic Director Ron Hannon) the only way we were going to get it done is if we found some really good softball assistant coaches. We did, and they were awesome.”

Kramer was referring to softball assistant coaches Paige Miguel, Bobby Reggiani and Mari Rodriguez. Kramer also credited his assistant coaches on the beach volleyball team—Chris Spence, Ramon Rodriguez and Isaiah Acfalle—for being instrumental to the program’s success.

With the help of his assistant coaches, Kramer was able to juggle coaching two teams in the same season, almost unheard of at any level, especially in community college. But extenuating circumstances—the possibility of the softball program folding—required extraordinary measures.

Simply put, Kramer did not want any of the student-athletes who came to Gavilan to play softball have something taken away through no fault of their own.

“The biggest motivation in doing this was knowing the ladies on campus who came to Gavilan to play softball,” he said. “For us to not give them an opportunity would be heartbreaking. Softball is amazing in our area, and Gavilan once again needs to be a destination for the players who want to go the JC route. And I see no reason why it can’t be done. That was the motivation for me to come back.”

Kramer did something few others in his position would’ve done three weeks ago—turn down a position to be an athletic director. But that’s exactly what happened when Kramer was offered the Mission College athletic director position. Kramer has always said he loves being immersed at Gavilan College, and he has gone above and beyond in showing it.

The longtime Gavilan indoor volleyball coach, Kramer said he shouldn’t be applauded for turning down a seemingly more lucrative position; rather, it’s the athletes and support system at Gavilan who deserve all of the credit.

“The bottom line is I want to be with these student-athletes because they inspire me on a daily basis,” he said. “I want to improve and build something with them.”

Kramer loves rebuilding projects, and fortunately for Gavilan, he’s a great leader and has a track record for resurrecting programs. In the early mid-2000s, he helped resurrect the Canada College women’s volleyball program, leading the Colts to some of their best years in program history.

When Kramer took the same position at Gavilan, he turned around a program that is now one of the best in Northern California. The softball team gives him another opportunity to help spearhead a program’s revival. Kramer refused to let the softball program fold, something that befell fellow Coast Conference schools Chabot and Mission.

“We weren’t going to let that happen,” Kramer said. “We had 13 ladies who bought in, and that was the unifying factor. Everyone knew they didn’t want the program to disappear. We attribute most of the season to the girls that stepped up and played. We had two ladies who weren’t enrolled at the time come back and play. One lady who was 30 (Jamie Temperino) played volleyball for me (12 years ago) came back to play softball. It took that type of dedication to make this happen.”

Indeed, it was players like Chavarria—who hadn’t played softball since the 7th grade—to don a glove again. All Chavarria did was pitch 131 of the 151 of the team’s innings. Kramer first broached the subject of softball with Chavarria while on the road during the end of the indoor volleyball season.

In fact, Chavarria remembers the exact moment when it happened.

“We were on our way to play Ohlone and he turns to me and says, ‘I think I might coach softball,’” Chavarria said. “I was like, ‘What?’ We got girls’ contact numbers, and I told him I could come back and play if he needed more girls to fill out the team. It was just an idea at the time and me helping him to get in contact with more girls. He said I motivated him to coach softball when I said I could come back and play, and it gave him an extra boost of confidence to take it over. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play both sports and see progress from the beginning to the end of the season.”

Led by Chavarria and Karli Martinez—who hit .402 for the season—the Rams finished the season, something that was anything but a foregone conclusion last fall when the college couldn’t find a coach.

“It was tough but the fact the girls stuck it out was a huge accomplishment,” Kramer said.

As the only two athletes to play both sports in the spring, Chavarria and Siaz spent a lot of time together, either carpooling, at practice or in the games. In addition to not wanting to see the program end, Chavarria also had another important reason to do both sports—to show her sister Noel, who is a standout softball player at San Benito High—that overcoming obstacles is all about mental strength and willpower.

Noel Chavarria tore her ACL at the end of the 2017 season and has come back better than ever this season.

“I wanted to show her even if she had to take time off to heal, she can still come back and fight through all of it,” Lexi said. “That it didn’t matter if I hadn’t played since the 7th grade, that you can still come back and be strong.”

Lexi had a solid season in beach volleyball, teaming with former Gilroy High standout Jenna Clonts as Gavilan’s No. 4 team. Clonts and Chavarria saw their season end in the Northern California Regionals on May 2, falling to a powerful Sierra squad, 4-1. Gavilan received its lone win at the No. 3 spot, where Katia Dizon (Anzar) and Emily Jensen produced a nail-biting, three-set victory.

Game scores were 21-18, 19-21, 17-15. Gavilan’s lineup included Leifheit and Banda at the No. 1 spot, Sarah Weiby (Gilroy) and Kaitlyn Viray (Christopher) at No. 2, the aforementioned teams of Dizon and Jensen and Chavarria and Clonts at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, and Evelyn Clonts (Gilroy) and Christa Arroyo (Christopher) at No. 5.

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