The Rams congratulate each other during Tuesday's practice in the Gavilan College gym.
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GILROY—The camaraderie in the Gavilan College gym Tuesday was undeniable. After each drill, the Rams volleyball players huddled together to acknowledge each other’s accomplishments, always ending with a “Go Rams” chant before breaking. That, head coach Kevin Kramer said, is what an entire summer of bonding does for a team.
Unlike prior years, all 12 Rams have spent the summer offseason practicing together. All but two of them have played under Kramer in some capacity, whether it was with his club, sand or indoor teams—and that’s made the shift to the junior college level that much smoother.
“We kind of feel like we’re ahead of the game from where we’ve been in the past,” Kramer said. “It’s been a relatively easy transition to get them used to just wearing a different shirt. It’s the same coaches, same system, just a different shirt.”
But it’s not new for everyone.
Outside hitter Samantha Nydam, who planned to be a walk-on for San Jose State this fall, opted to return to the Rams for her sophomore season. She led Gavilan in kills with 273 in addition to 138 digs and 14 aces last season.
Also returning is middle hitter Alexia Balistreri, who Kramer noted has “developed greatly” through the sand and off seasons, as well as middle hitter Greer Watson and defensive specialist Sierra Gaeta.
While the returners have “been through the ringer” of last year’s 13-13 season, Kramer is excited to have some fresh blood in the lineup, too.
Erica Chapa, a standout from San Benito High, played volleyball at the club level at San Francisco State last year but it didn’t satisfy her competitive nature, so she decided to join the Rams this year. Gavilan will also look to Live Oak grads Courtney Borja and Madison Hartman, younger sister of the William Penn University-bound Savanna, as well as Valerie Rodgers from Sacramento to shake things up in their inaugural seasons.
“I could give you everybody’s name because I think everybody is going to have an impact,” Kramer said. “It’s been pretty competitive…At any given time I would argue all 12 girls could easily be a starter.”
This group touts more athleticism and a higher volleyball IQ than Kramer said he’s seen in a long time. But what really sets them apart, Balistreri said, is the chemistry they have developed, which was lacking last season.
“We get out of the awkward stage really early like when you first meet new people. We’re out of that stage now and we’re ready to play,” she said.
The Rams are hoping to return to the conference championship caliber team they had in their 2012 and 2013 seasons and Kramer said he believes the defense will get them there. Offensively, he’s confident in the talent his hitters bring to the table, but said the serve-receive is a component the team continues to work on.
“Everybody wants to win,” Chapa said. “We’re really stressing passing, then setting, then hitting…We all know we need each other.”
Gavilan’s expectation is always to compete for a conference championship. Kramer said he’d also like to see the team make the third round of the postseason and vy for a trip to state. But his biggest goal for the team has little to do with volleyball.
“The biggest thing is I hope we can move all these kids on (to four-year schools). That’s my goal every year,” Kramer said. “I think the difference this year is we want to make sure they’re focused on every single game and treat it like it’s the most important game of the year. If we can do that, the wins and loses will take care of themselves.”

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