APTOS — This year’s rendition of the Cabrillo College women’s volleyball team is a well-oiled machine. Although they’ve only been together for a couple of months, the Seahawks all move in unison like a world-class orchestra on the court and they’re indivisible off of it.
They’re on the same page on everything.
Well, almost everything.
Ask them who is the best cook on the team and get ready for a laundry list of names with pros and cons for each. Some think redshirt freshman right side Kylie Kvam, others tab sophomore defensive specialist Melissa McPherson but most say freshman setter Bella Bress has the Gordon Ramsay-esque touch in the kitchen, even if she accidentally served chicken fried rice to one of the vegetarians on the team.
“She was so sorry about that,” said freshman outside hitter Jolie Samuelson. “But she actually makes awesome stuff. Everyone loves her food.”
While some might have a little more skill in the culinary department than others, the Seahawks as a whole have been serving up spicy, statement dishes to opponents in the early season.
Cabrillo sits at 11-0 and is ranked No. 1 in the state, according to the California Community College Women’s Volleyball Coaches Association, heading into Coast Conference North division action on Friday night. The Seahawks host College of San Mateo at 6:30 p.m.
Despite being the youngest and smallest team at Cabrillo in recent memory, the expectations still remain the same for the Seahawks: win the conference, make it to state and return home with a championship trophy.
Cabrillo has, after all, engraved those high expectations into the program over the past four years with two state titles (2013 and 2015) and a runner-up finish (2014). But with eight freshman on a squad of 11, the Seahawks aren’t eyeing the finish line just yet. They would be lying if they said the state championship wasn’t on their minds, especially after the hot start. But at this point of the season, they’re strictly focused on becoming a better, closer team, something last year’s team lacked and ultimately sunk its state title chances.
“We weren’t quite sure what we wanted last year,” said sophomore libero Alyssa Nelson, who last year redshirted but started for the 2015 state championship team. “We wanted to get to state but we didn’t have little goals to get us there.”
Last season, head coach Gabby Houston-Neville had arguably her most talented and experienced team of her now nine-year stint with Cabrillo — six girls went on to play college volleyball at four-year programs — but they were never able to find the chemistry needed to become serious state title contenders. They finished 24-3 overall and captured the program’s 10th consecutive conference crown but were bounced in the first round of the state championship by El Camino College.
“It was a lot of individual talent and not a lot of team chemistry,” Houston-Neville said. “It looked like they had it on the outside but it wasn’t deep. When push came to shove, it just unraveled really quickly at the state tournament. We were able to get through the season just on talent alone and once we got to the state championship where everybody’s talented, then it’s really going to be the best team that wins. Going back to that state tournament, we were not the best team.”
This season, Houston-Neville sees a different resolve in her team. She said she sees a lot of the 2015 squad, which famously won 10 straight sets to secure the state title after dropping their opening match, in this year’s team. The Seahawks might not have the same depth as 2015 and they don’t have a hitter with the sheer power of state tournament M.V.P. Marcela Frazzoni. But they do have more than a handful of players that can play multiple positions and, most importantly, an unexplainable chemistry with one another.
“I think we’re always on the same wavelength of how hard we need to work and that shows when we’re on the court competing,” said Samuelson, a La Quinta High alumna.
Samuelson leads the Seahawks in kills (99) and kills per set (2.91) through the early season but isn’t alone on the attack. Sophomore middle blocker Rebecca Lee, a kickback from NCAA Division III Lewis & Clark College and a Harbor High alumna, is second on the team in kills (94), Kvam, a Redwood High alumna who bounced back after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament last year, is third (73) and Bress, a Palos Verdes High alumna, is fourth (63). Freshman outside Ellie Carry, a Monta Vista High alumna, and sophomore outside Camryn Rocha, a kickback from NCAA Division II Chico State and Soquel High alumna, also provide an added dimension to the Cabrillo offense.
None of the Seahawks’ hitters rank within the top 50 in state in total kills but Houston-Neville said that’s by design. Bress and freshman setter Mari Molina, a Redwood High alumna, keep defenses guessing and their multitude of hitters happy with several sets a game. If one girl is having an off day, there are five others that can find the hardwood.
“We just have good solid players at every position,” Houston-Neville said. “It’s always a team effort. That’s really important.”
Nelson, a Hoover High alumna, leads the team’s defense from the back line along with Santa Cruz High alumna McPherson. Samuelson and Molina are also defensive stalwarts.
The quartet, however, hardly sees attacks come untouched with Lee and freshman Amanda Meserve, a Saratoga High alumna, controlling the action from the middle of the net. Kvam also puts up a formidable block.
The only concern Houston-Neville has with this year’s team is its health. The Seahawks are a only couple of injuries away from shortening an already tight rotation. But they all agree that the small numbers have helped them quickly form a strong bond.
“I feel a better bond having less girls,” Nelson said. “You get to keep up with everyone. I think it’s better this way.”