The Cabrillo College women’s volleyball team geared up during its preseason portion of the schedule in order to compete for the upcoming conference season, facing some of the top teams in the state and being competitive with the top three of San Joaquin Delta, Sierra and Feather River colleges.
Last week, they traveled to Saratoga to meet another strong squad in West Valley College and gave the Vikings a run for their money in a most unusual way.
The Seahawks rallied back from a big deficit but fell in five sets (25-23, 25-17, 20-25, 24-26, 15-11) in non-conference action Oct. 4.
The formula for upsetting a higher-ranked team, such as West Valley, on their home court does not include dropping the first two sets and falling behind 6-0 in the third.
However, it does include resilience, adjusting your defense and offense mid-match and with a lot of grit.
“It shows our diligence and resilience,” Cabrillo’s Paola Jacobs said. “We used every ounce of energy we had and put up a fight.”
Kelea Saxton led the Seahawks with 21 kills and added 21 digs. Jacobs delivered 18 kills with 22 digs. Renee Parker belted seven kills from the middle, while setter Mikaila Kronholm directed the attack with 49 assists for the Seahawks.
Cabrillo’s overall record slips to 6-7 just as the conference season is about to start, which kicks off with a trip to San Jose City College on Wednesday.
West Valley, led by ex-Cal coach Sam Crosson, improved to 8-3 overall. Sophie Ehret paced the Vikings with 27 kills, Alex Franklin added 14 and Sydney Pista contributed 10.
Cabrillo’s roster is primarily a mix of local players from high schools up and down the coast. Saxton is from Santa Cruz, Jacobs from Mt. Madonna, Nakaela Lagasca and Hannah Curutan from Aptos, Leslie Diaz from Watsonville, Renee Parker from Soquel and Julie Che from Pajaro Valley.
“We like playing on the same side as girls we used to play against,” Saxton said. “It fosters the volleyball community in the county.”
The Seahawks led much of the first set at West Valley but two Ehret kills were part of a five-point closing run that captured the set for the Vikings.
Ehret, a Wilcox High alum, and Franklin, from Palo Alto High, led West Valley to victory in the second set. Cabrillo fell behind 6-0 in the third set, and coach Branden Torado called a timeout.
The Vikings might have been thinking they would finish things off with a sweep. Cabrillo had other ideas.
“We were resilient,” Torado said. “We were down 2-0 in sets and pushed it to five. We had that ‘next point’ mentality. And we made some adjustments. We shifted our defense. We got more digs and that set up our offense.”
An improved block slowed the West Valley attack. Torado cited contributions up front from Che and Diaz. Parker was strong as always. Libero Lagasca, Jacobs and Saxton led a fierce back-row defense. Kronholm found options up front and the Seahawks were putting more balls down.
The Seahawks rallied and tied the set at 15, with Jacobs, Parker and Saxton pacing an 11-5 run. A surge of four straight points put Cabrillo on top. During that charge, Saxton drilled a cross-court kill and Jacobs belted a winner down the line. Cabrillo won the set.
The fourth set was a battle royal. At 23-23, the Seahawks reached deep to extend the contest to a fifth set.
For the final two points, Jacobs crushed a deep cross and Parker blocked an attack, and the Seahawks bench erupted.
The fifth set was back and forth but West Valley pulled it out, with Pista converting in the middle to complement Ehret’s outside attack.
“I thought we put up such a good fight,” Kronholm said. “We played it a bit too safe in the first two sets. Also, we changed up our defensive strategy.”
Cabrillo will compete in the Coast Conference North Division along with Hartnell, Monterey Peninsula College, De Anza, City College of San Francisco and San Jose City College.
The Seahawks got off to a great start following a three-set sweep (25-10, 25-15, 25-14) victory over San Jose CC in the teams’ conference opener Oct. 11.
The players have their eye on Hartnell as perhaps the toughest opponent, and have the confidence to succeed in the league.
“We have the team for it and the coaching staff for it,” said Jacobs, referring to Torado and assistant coach Samantha Taylor.
In 2022, Cabrillo finished with a 7-3 record in conference play. They beat Fresno in the second round of the Northern California Regionals and lost the NorCal final in four sets to San Mateo, who won the coveted State bid.
Torado feels the challenging pre-league schedule will harden his team. Many of those matches were on the road, helping the Seahawks get used to different atmospheres.
“Our big goal is winning the Coast Conference,” Kronholm said. “For us as sophomores, we want to finish high. We want to leave a legacy.”