The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The College of San Mateo volleyball team didn’t quite know what to expect entering into its inaugural season with Wednesday’s opener at the Fourth Annual Skyline Volleyball Classic.
With two wins in two matches, it’s safe to say expectations are now riding high.
The Lady Bulldogs swept through both matchups, first taking down Cosumnes River College 25-20, 25-16, 25-22. Then in the nightcap CSM dominated Solano Community College for a 25-10, 25-14, 25-19 victory.
“Honestly, I expected us to be the underdogs,” CSM sophomore setter Samantha Johnson said. “I thought we were going to be OK. But I didn’t think we were going to go 2-0.”
The only sophomore on the team, Johnson ran the point like a veteran should, feeding an impressive front-line attack featuring an array of middle blockers. In the second match against Solano, freshman middle Malia Kolomatangi notched a team-high nine kills while outside hitter Jade Tu went off in the third set to total eight kills.
But Johnson didn’t go it alone setting wise. While CSM refers to its offense as a traditional 5-1 lineup, the Bulldogs actually incorporate two setters much of the time when Johnson is in the front row, moving freshman setter Janine Francisco into the rotation.
With the two on the court together, not only is the passing spot on, they offer different tactical looks as well. Johnson is more precise, feeding any quadrant of the court she pleases. Francisco, meanwhile, has a beautiful high-arcing set that is greatly effective at distributing to the left side for in-system attacks.
The results were at times dazzling against a Solano team that was struggling to find any sort of tempo — the Falcons committed 31 unforced errors through the three-set match.
“I was excited for today because of how we came out of our last two intra-squad scrimmages,” CSM head coach Katie Goldhahn said. “Over the last couple weeks they grew by leaps and bounds.”
Goldhahn was hired nearly a year ago when CSM announced they’d be reinstating volleyball for the 2016 season. (Technically, it’s the first foray into volleyball as an official sport. Some decades ago, the community college did feature it as a club sport.) The year gave Goldhahn the opportunity to focus on recruiting. And by the time summer practice sessions rolled around, she had what she thought was her core group.
By the end of summer workouts, CSM’s roster was at 12. But on the first day of fall classes, three walk-ons showed up to try out for the team. One of those walk-ons was 6-foot middle hitter Brittany Travis. And with the height on the roster previously topping out at 5-7, Goldhahn didn’t waste any time telling Travis to suit up.
“I didn’t even see her play; I said, ‘Sign up for the team right now,’” Goldhahn said.
Travis displayed an advanced feel for the game Wednesday. Not only does she time her jumps well and exhibit good velocity and precision on her shots. She’s got smooth footwork that balances her as an equally effective defender, not only on the block but digging and scrapping as well.
While a freshman on the court, Travis is an academic sophomore after attending San Francisco State University last year. She played club volleyball there. But when her former high school club teammate Alyssa Dela Cruz joined the CSM team, she recommended Travis pursue a spot on the team as well. So, she concurrently enrolled at CSM for the fall with the intention of restarting her official volleyball career.
Now, CSM has tremendous depth at middle net, with Kolomatangi, Chureel Kanongataa and Salote Alipate all in the mix. With Goldhahn getting every one of her players onto the court at some point Wednesday, each of the middles had time to shine.
“It’s fun trying to challenge for that spot during practice,” Travis said. “I’m competing against my teammates but also encouraging them to play their best also.”
Travis is familiar with competing among a deep group of middles. She did the same with her high school club team Club Solano. One of the middles she played with there, Destiny Greenwood, is currently taking a medical redshirt at Solano Community College and was in the house Wednesday.
CSM cruised to easy wins in the first two sets against Solano, but in Game 3 the Bulldogs fell behind early. Trailing 10-7, Johnson produced a hook-shot kill — she totaled four kills, three aces and a block in the match — and took to the service line on the ensuing side-out.
Johnson went on a six-point service run to swing CSM into the lead, with Kolomatangi producing the roof to tie it at 10-10. On the following point, Solano shot long to give the Bulldogs the lead amid a 9-1 run. Kolomatangi’s match-high ninth kill ultimately closed out the win.
“They came today ready to play,” Goldhahn said. “I was worried about nerves but they didn’t show it.”
CSM’s schedule gets markedly more challenging from here. Next up, the Bulldogs celebrate their home opener next Wednesday in the First Annual San Mateo Classic, opening against Skyline at 2 p.m. and closing at 6 p.m. against Los Medanos, a team that finished in third place in the Bay Valley Conference last season.
Then CSM travels to the San Joaquin Delta Classic next Friday opening against Foothill College, last year’s Coast Conference South champion that posted a 28-3 overall record including an undefeated 12-0 mark in conference play. And come conference play, the Bulldogs play in the same Coast Conference South as reigning state champion Cabrillo College.
With opening night now in the books though, the mood among the Bulldogs has them sitting on top of the world.
“We’re feeling good,” Johnson said. “We’re 2-0 now and we feel the chemistry is there.”
Also in Wednesday’s tourney, Skyline opened its season with a 1-1 record. The Lady Trojans won their first match in straight sets over Solano but dropped the nightcap against Cosumnes River 25-19, 25-17, 25-20.