On paper, this year’s Gavilan College women’s volleyball team could be the best one yet since coach Kevin Kramer took over the program 12 years ago. Considering the Rams are the two-time Coast Conference South Division champions and a perennial NorCal playoff participant, that says volumes.
“Sometimes you think it’s one of those (special) years,” Kramer said.
That’s because the Rams return eight players off last year’s team and have an influx of newcomers who are ready to make an immediate impact. Gavilan was 4-0—having not dropped a set in the process—entering Wednesday’s matches against Sierra and Fresno City.
“Needless to say, it was a good recruiting year,” Kramer said. “Typically you’re going to get one to two kids who go in a different direction, but this year everything lined up and we even got a couple of (talented) ladies who were not on our radar and kind of fell to us. This might be one of the top recruiting classes we’ve ever had.”
The incoming freshmen class includes setter Kieley Hoskins (San Benito), outside hitter Charlotte Cannizzaro (Venice), defensive specialist Noel Chavarria (San Benito), outside hitter Teresa Ochoa (North Salinas), defensive specialist Zoe Harada (Santa Teresa), setter Melissa Zanotto (Central Catholic) and middle/opposite Florence Tukuaoga (South San Francisco).
Returning players who either started or played significant games last season include setter Greysen Gilroy (Monte Vista Christian), libero Mikeila Banda (Notre Dame-Salinas), middle Camille Finley (San Benito), middle Evelyn Clonts (Gilroy), outside hitter/opposite Katelyn “Juice” Viray (Christopher), opposite/middle Lexi Chavarria (San Benito), opposite Katia Dizon (Anzar), setter/opposite Sarah Weiby (Gilroy) and defensive specialist Adrianne Orahood (Sherwood).
“One of the keys to having a good year is having a lot of returners, and we are lucky to have nine sophomores,” Kramer said. “Winning conference last year, the ladies got a taste of what it takes to win it, so our sophomores will be key for us if we are to win it again.”
With talent and depth at every position, Gavilan’s practices are intense and no one’s position is set in stone.
“We’ve never had competition like this in the gym before on a daily basis,” Kramer said. “I told them on any given day a starting position is earned or lost. It comes down to the attention to detail and competing at the level you’re supposed to be at that could walk you into the starting lineup.”
Having an ultra-deep roster also provides a boost mentally.
“Having that depth allows people not to feel that pressure to carry the weight,” Kramer said. “That allows everyone to let it all hang out and go after it.”
In Finley, Clonts, Tukuaoga and Lexi Chavarria, the Rams have an imposing front line presence. Finley, Clonts and Tukuaoga are all 6-foot-1, and Chavarria is 5-10.
“Those four are pretty formidable and make it tough for everyone to play against everyday,” Kramer said. “They just beat the heck out of each other in practice blocking each other. If anything sets us apart, it’ll be their ability in the middle for us. Across the board, we’re one of the biggest teams in Northern California, if not the state.”
Dizon and Viray were two of the go-to outside hitters in 2017, but Dizon has transitioned to the right side and defensive specialist and “will be a huge factor.” Viray
looks stronger than ever, and along with Cannizzaro and Ochoa give the Rams some powerful hitters who will be unstoppable at times.
“Charlotte is a potential D1 outside hitter,” Kramer said. “And Teresa honestly at this point might be the most explosive outside hitter we’ve ever had in this gym. She can take a bad set and put it away. She’s explosive and athletic, and if she’s not one of the top hitters in NorCal this season, I’d be surprised.”
The Rams are also deep at the setter position, with returners Gilroy and Weiby and newcomers like Hoskins and Zanotto coming in right away and being difference-makers.
“Greysen has an exceptional knowledge of the game and knows what it takes to get it done,” Kramer said. “Sarah will be setting and playing opposite, and Kieley is a complete stud in her set location and knowledge of the game. She’s doing things well beyond her freshman year, and Melissa is someone who competes and brings the level of play up.”
Banda returns as a premier defensive specialist, with her superior serve-receive skills being the key to the team’s defense. Noel Chavarria, Harada and Orahood—a San Jose City College-transfer—form a solid defensive specialist core.
“They can come in any time and give our six rotation players a break,” Kramer said. “Noel has been away from volleyball for a couple of years and you would never know it the way she’s been playing. She’s been killing it. Our defensive specialists give our big hitters the kind of security that they don’t have to be good in six rotations all the time.”
Gavilan doesn’t just have one standout—it has several. In the team’s “toughest” match so far—a three-set win over West Valley—six different players recorded kills, with no one finishing in double-digits. Hoskins had 20 assists and two service aces and looks to be spot-on at setter.
Kramer will always deflect credit to the Gavilan administration and staff when it comes to talking about the success of the program, but the reality is few coaches can build a winning product and consistently transfer players who excel on and off the court to four-year schools at the rate in which the Gavilan program—under Kramer for the last 12 years—has done.
It all starts with recruiting, and some coaches are excellent at it and some are not. Fortunately for Gavilan, Kramer’s recruiting acumen is second to none.