COS volleyball begins delayed, condensed season of nine matches against five Central Valley teams
VISALIA – In a season that promises to be unlike any other in school history, there is one thing College of the Sequoias women’s volleyball coach Kim Rix won’t have to worry about.
And that is the desire to compete shared by the 11 women who took the court for the Giants’ months-delayed season opener on March 5 at Bakersfield College.
“You have to want it to be here this year,” said Rix, now in her seventh season as Sequoias’ head coach. “There have been so many hoops to jump through and sacrifices to make. And it wasn’t worth it to everyone. So we’re a little smaller [in roster size], but the ones who are here want it the most.”
Since the Giants last played on Nov. 26, 2019, during a Northern California Regionals loss at Sierra College in Rocklin, safety precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic have brought sweeping modifications to California community college athletics, including delaying the start of seasons, reducing their duration and eliminating state playoffs.
Sequoias’ typical summer in-person conditioning program was replaced by workouts conducted over Zoom video conferencing.
The team didn’t meet in person until a couple months into the fall semester, when Sequoias began practicing outdoors in small pods of players.
And when COVID-19 cases across the country began to spike around the winter holidays, even the small group practices were halted as a precautionary measure.
But with infection rates declining and state restrictions easing, the Giants were cleared to begin practicing as a full squad—and in the gym—in January after all players and coaches tested negative for COVID-19.
Returning to practice with safety precautions in place such as daily testing and the use of masks, however, weren’t the only hurdles to clear.
In December, nearly all of the community colleges across the state that offer athletics elected to opt out of competition for the 2020-2021 school year, including 78 of the 91 program’s that offer women’s volleyball.
So Sequoias’ athletics director Brent Davis scrambled to put together a nine-match season against five regionally based colleges (Bakersfield, Antelope Valley, Cerro Coso, Cuesta and Taft) that will comprise the one-off, jokingly dubbed Central California Community College COVID Conference.
The Giants will play each college (except Cuesta) in home and away matches culminating on April 1. There will not be a postseason, and all players will retain their same eligibility during the 2021-2022 school year.
“All thanks go to Brent Davis, our athletic trainers, the nurses doing the testing, the support of [school president/superintendent Brent] Calvin and the administration,” Rix said. “It would have been easier just not to play. But everyone behind the scenes has worked so hard to get us to this point.
“The girls are so excited to get to play and have some competition this year. They want to take full advantage of the opportunity to play other teams.”
Sequoias is set to be led by a trio of players who earned all-Central Valley Conference honors last season, when the Giants went 20-8 overall and made their fifth consecutive appearance in NorCal Regional playoffs.
That group is headed up by first-team All-CVC selection Hazel Martinez, a 6-foot-1 opposite hitter out of Mission Oak High. Martinez was second on the team in kills (236) and led the Giants in blocks (52) last season.
“Hazel is a huge asset to the program,” Rix said. “She is such a hard worker.”
The Giants also return All-CVC honorable mentions in Mykia Campbell (a 5-6 setter out of Coalinga) and Gia Rozadilla (a 5-9 libero from Fresno’s Central High).
Campbell recorded 311 assists along with 77 digs while sharing the setter job with Sydney Guinn last season. Rozadilla had 100 digs as a defensive specialist.
“Mykia is great about learning the hitters and where they want (the set.) She really runs the offense well,” Rix said. “And Gia has stepped into that (libero) role. She’s so mature and just a great leader.”
Sequoias’ only other returning sophomore, 5-10 middle blocker Jayda English, looks to build on her strong finish to the 2019 season, when the Lemoore product produced 87 kills and 35 blocks.
“She’s going to be a big player for us,” Rix said.
Seven newcomers, all with Tulare County ties, round out Sequoias’ roster.
Rix said she is expecting a major contribution from Allyson Garcia, a 5-9 outside hitter from Dinuba. Garcia is slated to play all around the rotation, similar to the way then sophomore Christa Pilgrim did in 2019 when delivering 251 kills, 175 digs and 18 blocks.
“Losing Christa could have been really bad for us, but Allyson has stepped in and filled that role,” Rix said. “She will be a big gun for us this season.”
The Giants’ front line will also be bolstered by Katy Haworth, Abigail Billingsley and Kenya Pinon.
Haworth is a 5-7 outside hitter who is a Visalia resident but prepped at Monterey Bay Academy. Billingsley is a 5-10 outside hitter from Redwood, while Pinon is a 5-8 middle blocker from Woodlake.
Sequoias also features a pair of setters in 5-8 Ellie Applegate (Mt. Whitney) and 5-11 Skylen Goulart (Mission Oak) and 5-4 defensive specialist Claire Toomey (University Prep).
“We never have just a set starting six for the whole year, but this year even more so we are going to have flexibility,” Rix said. “We have a lot of utility players who can play multiple positions, so we’re going to take advantage of that and let them play different positions and different roles. This year we’re going to work on getting the girls experience.”
Rix, who is assisted by Lindsey Hall, said she believes the Giants will field a competitive team.
“They have worked hard,” Rix said. “I’m optimistic. They are a good group of girls.”
The volleyball teams next game will be a home and home stint against Antelope Valley. COS will travel south to Lancaster, Calif. on March 12 and host the Marauders at 4 p.m. on March 13.