College: Gavilan volleyball firing on all cylinders

The Gavilan College women's volleyball team enters the playoffs on a 15-game winning streak.

Kevin Kramer is in his 10th season as the coach of the Gavilan College women’s volleyball program, and his goal remains the same: To transfer athletes to four-year schools and help them continue their education, preferably on a scholarship. Winning is simply a byproduct of this process, and in some years the Rams have one of the upper-echelon teams in Northern California.

Such is the case this season, as Gavilan enters the Northern California playoffs on a 15-game winning streak. The Rams (21-6) went a perfect 12-0 in the Coast Conference South Division, relying on a balanced attack and a roster filled with players who prepped locally.

The Rams will find out their seed for the upcoming NorCal playoffs on Thursday. Kramer said Gavilan is pretty much locked in for a top 8 seed in the single-elimination tournament. If Gavilan can win two matches, it would advance to the state tournament for the first time in school history.

“From the get-go the girls said they wanted to get to the state tournament,” Kramer said. “It’s nice we’ll have a chance to compete for that goal.”

Kramer has developed a solid culture within the program, stressing team-building activities and doing what’s best for the student-athlete. That means going the extra mile in trying to get video out to coaches of four-year programs to better the chances of his players transferring to the next level.

A community college develops tradition when past players drop by occasionally to see how the program is doing, and Kramer is thankful for all of the players he’s coached over the years.

“We’ve always felt winning will happen by itself, and when it does it’s amazing,” he said. “From a program standpoint, all these kids who have given us so much over the last 10 years, it kind of validates what we’re doing. We get texts, Snapchats, Tweets and messages from past players. We’ve had two players stop by recently letting us know they want us to succeed. We know in the end where our players go next is the best thing and end goal. But I’m not going to lie—winning feels good.”

Everything has come together nicely for the Rams, whose only losses have come to state powers Fresno (twice), Sierra, Cabrillo, Santa Barbara and City College of San Francisco. Six sophomores fill half of the roster, and two of those sophomores are third-year college students.

That means the Rams are more experienced and have veteran savvy, ingredients that are necessary for a potential state run. Erica Chapa, a sophomore setter out of San Benito High, has done a superb job of running the offense. Chapa attended San Francisco State for a year before transferring to Gavilan because she wanted to play volleyball again.

“We’re lucky to have her,” Kramer said. “She kind of got left out of the shuffle (out of high school), and she had an outstanding season last year. She was an all-NorCal Region player, then had an amazing season in the beach volleyball season. She had an opportunity to maybe walk on for the Cal Poly beach team, but she decided to stick around here for one more year, which has been an absolute blessing for us. This year she’s playing even better than she did last year, which I didn’t think was possible. She’s just one of the more dynamic players you’ll see on any team on any court on any team this year.”

Chapa is such a dynamic player that Kramer will use her as a hitter at certain times in a match. When that happens, former Gilroy High standout Christa Arroyo sets, and she has done more than a capable job of making sound decisions. Freshman middle blocker Haley Leifheit, a San Benito product, has come on strong and elevated her skills in every aspect of the game.

“Haley is an amazing player with a great work ethic,” Kramer said. “Heart-wise, you can’t get much better than Haley.”

Serena Adame, another former San Benito standout, has excelled as a defensive specialist.

“You want to talk about competitive, that’s Serena,” Kramer said “She’s tooth and nails competitive.”

A pair of Live Oak graduates—Madison Hartman and Courtney Borja—have been instrumental at the outside hitter and opposite positions, respectively.

“They’re both absolute studs,” Kramer said. “They’re difference-makers and it’s been awesome to see them develop and shine.”

Libero Valerie Rodgers, a 5-foot-3 sophomore out of Quincy, qualified for the State Beach Championships last season.

“She’s been one of the best liberos in our conference and has been the key to our defense,” Kramer said.

Liz Pearce, a sophomore outside hitter and West Valley College-transfer, has also made an impact.

“She’s been a huge threat for us offensively,” Kramer said. “She gives us a ton of balance, maturity and depth.”

Although the Rams don’t have a single player over 6-feet tall, they make up for it with defense, on-court communication, balance, depth and the ability to make smart decisions both offensively and defensively.

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