After struggling through a one-win season last year, the Gavilan College women’s volleyball team is back on track.
Entering the week, the Rams were 5-3, having won four of their last five matches. They’re doing it with a similar formula and a familiar face in local volleyball circles in Chris Spence. The 42-year-old was a Gavilan assistant for 12 years from 2007 to 2019 coinciding with former coach Kevin Kramer’s time at the Gilroy community college.
Once Kramer left to take over the Dean of Athletics position at Chabot College in Hayward, the Rams cycled through a couple of coaches before Spence decided to become a college head coach for the first time in his career.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Spence is the right person for the job, as he knows the unique set of challenges that every Gavilan coach inherits.
“I know everything about the program, how to run it and what it took to get to the top level,” he said.
Gavilan once again features a roster filled with players who prepped locally. Spence said any conversation regarding the team’s success this season has to start with sophomore Makenna Deeth, the former Hollister High standout who has transitioned to outside hitter after playing in the middle for most of her career.
“It’s a middle hitter’s dream to play the outside,” he said. “She’s taken the challenge well and with every minute she’s getting stronger and stronger.”
What makes Deeth such a strong player is her insatiable appetite to improve.
“She studies film constantly and has a desire to get better,” Spence said. “I get a lot of texts and questions on all things volleyball. She’s really taken on the challenge of moving to the outside and everything that comes with it.”
Anna Demario, a 2022 Gilroy High graduate, has come on strong in her first year at the college level. Playing opposite, Demario is the only hitter on the team who never gets subbed out because of her tremendous defensive skills.
“She’s the only hitter that goes all around (six rotations),” Spence said. “Anna is consistent in all aspects and a lot of responsibility is laid on her from serve-receive to hitting to defensive responsibilities. She’s great with the serve, a great passer and smooth in everything she does. A lot of responsibility falls on Anna to do the little stuff which most people don’t notice. But the coaches notice.”
Spence said the team has a great back row of defensive specialists and liberos, led by Hollister product Kiki Heredia and twin sisters Jasmine and Yaileen Lopez, who prepped at Alvarez High.
“You have three really great defensive specialists and with them I think we have one of the best defenses in the conference,” Spence said. “We always have at least two of them back there at all times and they run the show with serve-receive and defensively. Every ball that is hit to us, we know we’ll have a ball up and play on it. All three of them are super strong on serve so we can score points with them either with aces or ball control.”
The Rams have another set of sisters on the team—though not twins—in former Sobrato High standouts Teresa and Maria Brozic. Maria’s playing time was limited in 2021 due to injury; however, the sophomore middle has been playing well.
“Maria is super strong in her workouts in the weight room and got in super strong shape,” Spence said. “She provides athleticism at the net and is still learning and getting the hang of playing in the middle, but she is moving well at the net.”
Teresa plays setter and had one year as a starter at that position in high school. Yet, she continues to develop and has adjusted nicely to the speed and tempo of the college game.
“Teresa has a former All American Erica Chapa working with her everyday, and she is soaking everything like a sponge,” Spence said.
Chapa is a former Gavilan and Cal State Monterey Bay standout and is on the coaching staff along with two other former Rams’ standouts, Camille Finley and Zoe Harada. It’s a diverse group of accomplished athletes, with Chapa earning the aforementioned All American status, Finley competing in track and field at Long Beach State and Harada doing beach volleyball at Ottawa University in Arizona.
All three players were part of the greatest run in program history, which included seven conference championships and two appearances in the State Final Eight.
“They’ve been great the whole time and we’re really lucky to have these young women making an impact with our players,” Spence said.
Sophomore middle Sarah Polanco, a Christopher High product, is a very heady and opportunistic player.
“Sarah has been a great treasure find. She uses her smarts more than her athletic ability,” Spence said. “She’s got the right timing, reads offenses well, can block and is very consistent. You can always count on her to be in the right spot at the right time, and that’s huge. She doesn’t get too high or too low, and to have that in the middle always balances out the team.”
Another CHS product, Natalia Vidito, is an athletic player who has potential and is still learning to play the outside hitter position, Spence said. Emma Fong is only 5-foot-4 but her athleticism and knowledge allow her to play the outside as well.
“Natalia is very springy and can jump out of the gym,” Spence said. “When she’s there, she really connects. Emma is a smaller player but uses her experience really well. They help balance out the roster.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]