Oakmont girls volleyball is immersed in a charmed season that may vault the program to new heights.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story ran in our Nov. 1 issue. Oakmont would indeed go on to win the SJS Division III championship.
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
It started out as a simple goal to build on newfound success for the Oakmont High girls volleyball team.
It’s turned into a hunger to reach uncharted territory.
That’s what a 31-2 regular season and unbeaten Capital Valley League campaign has done for the Vikings.
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make it further than we did last year and to keep improving as a team,” senior captain Brennah Gladwill said of the team’s desire to advance past the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. “That is still our goal, but we want to break that wall and get to where we have never been before.”
The entire Oakmont team — from head coach Shelby Weinberger to the last player listed on the roster — is saying and doing all the right things in taking the stretch run one match at a time. But a dream season like the one the Vikings are experiencing makes its perfectly understandable to dream bigger while hoping the alarm clock stays on snooze.
After going 21-14 and advancing past the first round of the section playoffs for the first time in recent program history in 2011, Oakmont school was still overlooked in preseason projections, especially in a league with perennial powers Bella Vista-Fair Oaks and Christian Brothers-Sacramento. Rather than letting the slight bother them, the Vikings used it as motivation.
“A lot of people weren’t expecting this from us,” said Weinberger, who is in just her second season as varsity coach at the Roseville school. “All year the girls’ confidence has grown. And now we are no longer hoping to win, but expecting to win.”
Weinberger and her players point to quickness as the key to the team’s success. On the court and off the court.
Oakmont installed a 6-2 formation with two setters rapidly dishing out low sets for quick kills. The girls also found their chemistry quickly during a pair of preseason tournaments.
“We definitely bonded during those preseason tournaments,” Gladwill said of Oakmont’s overnight trips to Red Bluff and Santa Cruz in the early season. “We played games and got to know each other better and everyone felt more comfortable around the team.”
Gladwill and fellow setter Ally Wubben, who is just a sophomore, had to connect in order for the new formation to work. Obviously, the pair clicked and the result has been a quick offense which has stumped opposing defenses. The communication and trust between the two setters allows for senior outside hitters Katie Carte and Emily Larson and sophomore middle blocker Kyra Rogers to record uncontested kills before defenses can set up their blocks.
While Carte (231 kills), Rogers (180), and Larson (175) post the attacking numbers that grab headlines, Weinberger believes that fundamentals and teamwork earn the numbers that matter most — wins.
“I try to focus on the basics and emphasize playing smart volleyball and making no mistakes,” she said. “Everyone is comfortable with their role and everyone leaves everything on the court. This is a team that truly gets along and appreciates the efforts that every player brings to the team.”
Senior captains Gladwill and Carte reiterate Weinberger’s message and lead the Vikings on and off the court with their own unique styles. Carte, who is a three-sport star, provides tactical direction and technical guidance while Gladwill serves as the positive emotional leader that never lets the team get down.
The Vikings have had little to get down about, especially with the contributions of sophomore starters Wubben and Rogers. The pair was elevated to varsity during their freshman seasons and seized the opportunity to break into the starting lineup.
“I knew what I was getting with Ally and expected that she would be running the 6-2 offense with Brennah,” Weinberger said, “but I did not necessarily count on Kyra growing so much this year. She has stepped it up so much and has proven that she deserves to be on the team and can contribute.”
The contributions of the team’s seniors, especially Gladwill and Carte, were expected to raise the emerging program to new heights with solid play and leadership. Both have lived up to their expected roles and validated the attention they have received from college programs interested in their services.
Gladwill has visited Westmont College in the Santa Barbara mountains and will tour six New England-area universities during the Thanksgiving break. Carte is considering her options to pursue the sciences in college, and will also have to determine if she will choose soccer or volleyball after high school. A gifted club soccer player and defender on Oakmont’s varsity team, she will be forced to choose one sport as both soccer and volleyball are fall collegiate sports.
Weinberger makes no distinctions based on age or experience, instead stressing the sum of the parts working together to succeed.
“We are one team together where everyone has a role to make the team work,” she said. “There are no seniors, juniors, sophomores, or freshmen, but just players that all work together.”
The girls have bought into the coach’s team concept and it’s paying dividends. Still, the Vikings understand that every practice and point counts, and that no opportunity or opponent can be overlooked.
“That starts with coach,” Gladwill said of the team’s one play at a time mantra. “She makes sure that we stay engaged, and that we realize that we can’t take any plays off no matter who the opponent is.”
Besides, the underdog label may have finally faded for the Vikings. Every opponent that Oakmont faces in the postseason will be aiming to deal the likely No. 1 seed its first loss since a Sept. 20 defeat at the hands of Div. I power Granite Bay. Oakmont’s confidence is high entering the playoffs, but the team still has its sights set on the initial goal to advance past the second round.
“Getting to the playoffs has definitely boosted our confidence,” Wubben said. “And we all think that we can get further than we have ever been before.”