After longtime women’s volleyball coach Kevin Kramer left Gavilan College to become the athletic director at Chabot College in 2018, Tyson Norton assumed the responsibilities for the 2019 season.
But Norton was gone after just one season, taking a job as an assistant coach at Utah State University. Enter Dane Holmgren, who is looking to once again add stability at the top much in the same way Kramer did when he was at the Gilroy community college.
Like his fellow coaches, Holmgren is navigating all the challenges that come with Covid protocols, However, Gavilan is stricter with theirs, as it is still not allowing fans to attend home matches.
“It’s been a whirlwind for the girls and the team and I’m so proud of how they’ve responded,” Holmgren said. “We’re trying to make the best of it and give them the best experience possible, and we’re so thankful to be back in the gym and doing what we love.”
At 0-6, the Rams are off to an atypical start. They are the four-time defending Coast Conference South Division champions and have won seven of the last 12 conference titles. But there was no 2020 season due to Covid and as such the program went through a lot of turbulence.
Even then, Holmgren has recruited a roster heavy on players who prepped locally, which tends to be an overwhelmingly positive mark for a community college. Gilroy High product Margo Clonts and Anzar graduate Kiauna Oliver are the only two returning sophomores in the program and provide tremendous leadership.
Clonts, a 5-foot-11 middle hitter, has earned praise from Holmgren for her volleyball IQ and ability to make an effective offensive attack even when the sets aren’t ideal. She’s also been instrumental on defense and calling out the opponents’ offensive schemes.
“She’s pretty much our defensive captain and makes sure we’re set up correctly on the block,” Holmgren said. “Her on-court leadership and energy she brings to the team has been high quality.”
Oliver, an opposite and right side hitter, can terminate a point on a moment’s notice and has been instrumental as a leader.
“Both Margo and Kiauna have been good stewards of the program and ideal players for what we’re trying to build,” Holmgren said.
Natalia Vidito, a freshman outside hitter from Christopher High, possesses a variety of shots and is able to attack from different positions along the net, Holmgren said. She’s also strong on serve-receive. San Benito High product Makenna Deeth provides a strong net presence as a middle hitter and is usually the team leader in blocks.
“She’s our stud in the middle,” Holmgren said. “She’s come in and made an impact right away both on offense and defense, and is really good going off on one foot hitting behind the setter. She stepped onto a starting role the moment she got on campus.”
Kylie Crawford, another San Benito High graduate, plays the left side and right side and is another potent attacker. Twins Jasmine and Yaileen Lopez out of Alvarez High have made an impact, Jasmine as a setter and Yaileen at libero. Holmgren said he still can’t tell the twins apart but can easily separate them when drawing or calling out plays since they’re at different positions.
“It’s been fun coaching a set of twins for the first time in my coaching career,” Holmgren said. “They keep me on my toes, that’s for sure.”
Maria Brozic, a freshman out of Sobrato High, has shown potential at outside hitter, while Emma Fong is the team’s utility maestro, able to play setter, defensive specialist and outside hitter.
“Maria is learning a new position transitioning from the right side/opposite to a full six rotation player,” Holmgren said. “I’m super proud of how she’s learning a new position and training as an outside because in high school and club she was on the right side and middle.”
Even though the Rams are struggling from a won-loss standpoint, Holmgren likes the makeup of his team and the players he has recruited. Every player either played locally or is from the area, which is the community college sports model example to follow.
The Rams took Los Medanos to five sets in a match on Sept. 22, the only two sets they’ve won out of the 20 they’ve played this season. Holmgren hopes the players continue to develop and compete on each point, which will give the team a greater chance to win more sets and eventually its first victory.
“Our defense has been scrappy and very good at times, and we’ll have to keep that up,” he said. “We’re getting better each match which gives me a lot of motivation to know we’re fighting and battling even though we’ve had a slow start.”