The Gavilan College women’s volleyball team has been road warriors this season—literally. Due to the renovation of the school’s gym, the Rams haven’t had a place on campus to play or practice. Instead, Gavilan has been relegated to practice at Gilroy High’s auxiliary gym—read, not the main gym—while playing every match on the road.
“These young women have been super resilient,” said Rams coach Kevin Kramer, who expects the renovated gym to be open for play within the next two weeks. “I’ll be honest—they haven’t complained about it at all. I hope in long run once we do get back home, we’ll reboot and hit a stride we haven’t been able to hit yet.”
Expectations are high once again for the Rams, who are coming off their first-ever appearance in the finals of the state tournament. They’ve already shown flashes of having the potential to return to that stage for the second straight year, especially in regards to team chemistry.
To wit: When two returning starters off a state contending team are asked to switch positions, that’s enough to potentially ruffle some feathers and change the dynamics of a team. Egos get bruised. Tension sets in. In turn, the team falls apart. That story has played out time and again in every sport, in every age group, across the world.
However, Gavilan is one of those programs that rise above any potential distractions and changes, because everyone has bought into the one for all, all for one mentality. So it is for the Rams, who enter Friday’s match at De Anza College at 12-4 overall and 2-0 in the Coast Conference South Division.
Last year’s middle blockers, Haley Leifheit and Jenna Clonts, have moved to the right side because freshmen Camille Finley and Evelyn Clonts—yes, Jenna’s younger sister—are taller and more suitable to play the positions. Instead of causing strife, the Clonts sisters—they both prepped at Gilroy High—can tease one another about the situation.
“Evelyn took my spot,” Jenna said with a chuckle. “It’s good, and I expected it. She’s so tall and so strong, and it’s nice I get to see her grow and improve. We’re so close in age and have played all through high school and club together. We don’t argue on the court because all of our hitters are dynamic. The change of position has worked out better for the team.”
indeed, Kramer said this could be the most complete and balanced team he’s had in his 11th season at the helm.
“The biggest boost we’ve had this year is the ability to block and control a match that way,” Kramer said.
With Evelyn Clonts and Finley—a 2017 San Benito High graduate—locking down the middle, Jenna Clonts and Leifheit (San Benito) manning the right side and the trio of outside hitters in Katelyn Viray (Christopher), Sarah Weiby (Gilroy) and Katia Dizon (Anzar), the Rams have a physically imposing net presence.
“This is probably the best blocking team we’ve ever had,” Kramer said. “One of the things we’ve lacked over the last couple of years is athletic and physical net play from the blocking side, and these ladies really enjoy it and making their presence felt.”
Gavilan’s offensive attack isn’t dominated by one player; rather, several players are capable of scoring points off a swing. Other than Viray blasting 20 kills in one match, no other player has had over 15 in a single match throughout the season. But it’s no surprise when a half-dozen players record several kills in the same match, speaking of the team’s balanced offensive attack.
“It’s harder to game plan against a team that has five to seven players who can put the ball down all the time,” Kramer said. “You can’t focus on one player, and we’re in a situation where we have a lot of young women who can contribute anytime. They have the ability to take over—they just haven’t had to do that yet.”
The bevy of options give setters Christa Arroyo (Christopher) and Greysen Gilroy (Monte Vista Christian) plenty to work with, and they’ve done an excellent job of making sound decisions and keeping opposing teams guessing on which player they’ll set.
“Christa and Grace move the ball around really well,” Kramer said. “It’s a luxury to have both of them.”
It’s also a luxury to have players who can take constructive criticism, and improve off them instead of taking it personally and affecting them in a negative way. Leifheit’s place in the middle was taken by Finley, her former teammate at San Benito High.
“Camille and Evelyn are great in the middle,” Leifheit said. “They’re monsters, they’re awesome and I love having them here.”
Leifheit and Jenna Clonts are two of the team’s three captains—Karishma Brooks is the other—and they’ve displayed leadership not so much by words but by their actions. By switching positions with no reservations, they’ve demonstrated what it means to be team players.
The transition for Clonts and Leifheit was made easier because both players are experienced and possess versatile skill sets. Because of that, they were able to make the necessary adjustments to flourish at a new position.
“It has gone smoother than I expected,” Leifheit said.
Said Clonts: “I like playing the right side. It’s something new, and it’s something I get excited about, knowing I’m improving everyday.”
Playing the right side instead of the middle means Clonts and Leifheit have had to adjust their timing with their attacks. Middles receive quick sets, while sets to the right side hitters are higher, giving them more time to adjust on the fly. One thing is for certain: The Rams are loaded with a deep roster, and competition at every position keeps everyone playing and practicing with a sense of urgency.
“It’s really interesting because there’s a little more nervousness in getting pulled off the court,” Leifheit said. “There might be a shorter leash because we’ve got players for every position, and it puts more pressure on everyone to play their best in their role.”
Clonts said the team’s dynamic and chemistry allow players to address each other in a firm but productive manner for the benefit of the program.
“A lot of us knew each other before we got to Gavilan, so it makes it easier for people to take constructive criticism,” she said. “There are no hard feelings, and it’s a really cool dynamic.”
The Rams, who are coming off a three-game loss to state power Cabrillo Monday, knows they’ll have to improve daily to reach the finals of the state tournament again. Fortunately for Gavilan, Kramer feels the team hasn’t come close to peaking yet.
“Where we’re going is better than where we are right now,” he said. “Having said that, the young women have played well and put us in a good spot going forward.”