After last year’s assertive 14-0 start to the season, the Panther volleyball team set the bar high for its 2017 campaign.
This year’s team hasn’t opened as hot as it did in 2016. Youth and inexperience have been factors in a 3-7 start over the first 10 games this season, but coach Laurie Nash always reminds her players that the record is not the focus. It’s about getting better with each game.
“We’ve been trying to focus on consistency, high energy and just being productive with our three main hitters,” said Nash. “It gets real tiresome losing like that. It hits your confidence. For (the players), we don’t want them to get used to losing, so we try to keep helping them focus on certain goals, and this (game against De Anza) was to just have some good team chemistry and high energy.”
After falling 3-0 to De Anza, the Panthers finally found the chemistry and high energy that Nash has been searching for. They pulled off a 3-0 sweep of Shasta College Sept. 13 in the nightcap of a double-header at City College.
Outside hitter Gianna Bell has emerged as the Panthers’ go-to offensive threat. The freshman from Cordova High led City College with double-digit kills in the win over Shasta, allowing her team to split four games in the Panther Classic.
Nash said that Bell was asked to take on a new position coming to City College, moving from her traditional middle-blocker position to a more versatile and offensively aggressive outside-hitter role.
“Her role has changed, which means that she’s had to learn over the summer how to pass and swing, how to block on the left, and then transition and swing on the left. It’s a totally different kind of set,” said Nash. “She’s still learning, but she’s still being productive in that role. It’s a difficult task to put on someone who’s a freshman, but she’s putting up the numbers.”
And they are big numbers.
In two games at the Foothill Classic on Sept. 6, Bell threw down for 28 kills and 12 digs in a 3-1 win against Taft, and followed with a 16-kill performance in a losing effort against Foothill later in the day.
Bell is taking the new role in stride, and continues along the learning curve of becoming a leader.
“It’s challenging because I’ve never played this position, ever,” said Bell. “I’ve always been a middle, but it’s a lot of work in practice, and my coaches telling me to fix what I have to fix, and my team encouraging me. They’re always there to back me up.”
Bell’s 103 kills (entering Sept. 13) lead the team. Monica Ramirez’s 158 assists are the top on the team, bolstered by two games of 30 or more. Kailee Orsi has played a solid libero in the back row, leading the team in digs, and 6-foot middle Brittany Honeycutt has been the team’s defensive stopper at the net, averaging over one block per set.
Sophomore Lexi Tomlinson and freshman Cylee Dulude have also been solid complements to Nash’s rotation.
“We’re still having to fine-tune some basic fundamentals. If we can stay on those ritually and make it routine so that they get better, I think everything else will fall into place,” said Nash. “We don’t have a big, jumping roster, so we have to play within our system as much as possible.”
City College will travel to Cabrillo College on Sept. 15–16 for a final litmus test before Big 8 play begins on Sept. 20 at home against San Joaquin Delta. The Panthers will play a pair of top 5 teams in the Cabrillo Classic. Cabrillo, according to the CCCAA website, is the No. 1-ranked team in California entering the week of Sept. 11, and Fresno is ranked fifth. City will play both teams in the same day.
“We’re just playing the No. 1 team in the state,” said Nash with a laugh. “It’ll be a good test for us to find out where we’re at right before we go into conference.”
“I think we’ve had shaky moments, but it’s because we have a brand-new team, a lot of freshmen coming in, so we’ve just been having to mold together,” Bell said. “We’re getting there. We have to work hard, and then we have to work harder.”
For more stats and results for SCC volleyball, visit sccpanthers.losrios.edu/sports/wvball.