by Erin Redmond, Gilroy Dispatch
MORGAN HILL—Though the Rams laughed as they dove after volleyballs in the sand, practice was no joke. These ladies mean business.
Gavilan is preparing for its inaugural sand volleyball season and it wants to start off with a bang. Being the first team to tackle the sport means one thing to the Rams: they have to set a precedent.
"No one has set the standard for you, you get to set it for yourself," Jessica Stofer said. "I like that it's a clean slate. Nobody on our team has really played (sand volleyball) competitively in the college atmosphere before."
The team is made up mostly of Gavilan's indoor volleyball team with the exception of a few new faces. While all have experience on the court, the Rams have had to learn how to play in the sand.
For starters, they had to learn the rules. There are just two players on a team versus the normal six. The beach courts are significantly smaller and it takes fewer points—21 compared to 25—to win the best-of-three matches.
The Rams have also found their indoor skills didn't translate as seamlessly as they'd hoped outside. They can't jump as high or move as quickly as their feet sink into the ground. And when they dive for a ball, they're getting mouthfuls of sand, too.
But it has been worth it.
All the hardships caused by the sand paid off in dividends when Gavilan returned to the hardwood. The sand, Rams coach Kevin Kramer said, has improved his players' volleyball IQ and in turn strengthened their passing, ball handling and hitting skills. And that's not all.
"It makes us faster; I feel so much quicker," sophomore and Christopher alum Kaitlin Brummit said. "We go two days indoor and then we're out here. We're jumping as high as we can in the sand and then when we get a stable foundation, we can actually jump high."
With five scored matches per game, that means only 10 of Gavilan's 16 players get the chance to play for points. The others will play in exhibition matches. This twist has made every practice that much more important.
"We'll compete during practice and let them jockey for those 10 spots. It'll change," Kramer said. "It just depends if you're having a bad week and not playing so well, somebody might get you. That's become fun because practice is a little more competitive. Every practice is a game to them."
Practice is competitive, yes, but that hasn't diminished the fun. The Rams' laughter echoed through the parking lot of the Morgan Hill Bible Church which is where they practice due do lack of a sand court on campus. The team has embraced the sport so much, Kramer said, they don't want to leave when practice is over.
"I love it, it's so much fun," a beaming Alexia Balisteri said. "We're getting a good tan; we're getting toned. … It's our first year and we want to start with a big bang."
Gavilan kicks off its season Feb. 27th with a tri-team scrimmage against West Valley and Foothills Colleges in Saratoga. With no courts of their own, the Rams won't have a home game and their closest games will be played at West Valley.
But they're not hanging their heads.
Instead, the Rams are chomping at the bit to play volleyball the way it's meant to be played: in the California sunshine.
Gavilan hopes to reach the postseason in its inaugural year, which will serve as redemption for its first round exit from the California Community College Athletic Association indoor playoffs.
"We've never done this before—none of us have, Brummit said. "It's kind of unfinished business from this last season. For the sophomores, we have a bitter taste in our mouth."
photo by Lora Schraft/Gilroy Dispatch Chief Photographer