National bronze medalists, Five Starz VB Club’s U17 roster is as talented as they come.
By TREVOR HORN | Contributor
After 32 years as a hall-of-fame coach at Sacramento State, 14-year olds were a chore.
Fundamentals needed to be focused on and skill sets were not what she was accustomed to. Colberg, the consummate professional she is, stayed the course and it has paid off.
Three of the girls on her last 14-under team are now integral parts of the Five Starz 17-under team based in Davis — the third-seed of the Open Bracket at the USA Girls Junior National Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. that ran from June 28 to July 1.
The roster of 12 players that passes the eye test as a nationally ranked team is chock full of Sac-Joaquin Section talent to go along with players from the East Bay.
A fair amount of mileage is needed for most to get to practice, but it only underscores the group’s dedication and unified goal — bringing home gold to Northern California.
Nastassja Bowman, a senior-to-be at Christian Brothers-Sacramento was just 12 when she began playing for Colberg five years ago. A powerful, yet undersized outside hitter that led Christian Brothers to an SJS Division III section title in the fall, Bowman is a setter for Five Starz. Like the rest of the team, Bowman soaks up every word the legendary coach gives her, and has appreciated the relationship the two have created.
“(Colberg) has nurtured me and is a role model on and off the court,” Bowman said. “We have a relationship that goes beyond volleyball.”
Quick to dismiss the praise for the success of the group, which is evident after a silver medal at junior nationals at the 15-year old level and a bronze last summer at 16s, Colberg knows talent.
“They are very talented in terms of their athletic abilities, and we’re deep,” Colberg said. “They are just good kids. I haven’t had to do anything when you get kids that are this good from different areas.
“They’re thrilled to be with each other. Lots of people say, ‘Debby, they come to play for you.’ I think they want to play with the other players. They are as attracted to one another as they are with the coaching.”
It’s not hard to see why talent is attracted to Colberg’s coaching. At Sac State, she led the Hornets to 20 NCAA tournament apperances, a Div. II national championship in 1981and an induction to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Also, the court at The Nest, the gymnasium at Sac State, is named after Colberg.
“When we tell others who we play for and they say, ‘Oh, I know Debby Colberg. I’ve heard of her,’ that’s exciting,” Five Starz and El Camino-Sacramento outside hitter Mikaela Nocetti said. “We know she holds us to a high standard and she’s a really competitive person as well. That really drives us to accomplish our goals.”
Six players for Five Starz stand over six feet. They pass the eye test.
Then once the team plays, talent overcomes all hype.
Adlee and Torrey VanWinden have been around volleyball since birth. Their mother, Kelly, was a standout volleyball player at Cal Poly before turning pro.
The sisters helped lead Vintage-Napa to the SJS Div. II section championship and Adlee is headed to Cal Poly, like her mother. With Torrey playing on the right side and middle with incredible strength and height (6-foot, 4 inches) at the net, the junior-to-be looks up to her big sister and both credit their mom and Colberg for their talents.
“We owe all of our fundamentals and all of our drive and integrity to my mom,” Torrey said. “But Debby Colberg has changed all of our lives in such a positive way on and off the court.”
The strength of the team is in the play near the net.
Nocetti, who is headed to Portland, helped lead El Camino to the SJS Div. II section title in 2012. Quiet and unassuming, Nocetti is another player that Colberg has coached for the last four years. She gets the highest praises from the coach because of her ability to shine without needing to show off.
“She’s the unsung hero of this team all the time,” Colberg said. “She’s just a Steady Eddie. I love the way she plays. She’s the exact type of player I’d want at Sac State. She does everything well and she has her ego intact with a really good head on her shoulders.”
It’s no wonder that the third player that has been with Colberg the longest also hails from the same neighborhood as Nocetti.
Brooke Watson is a libero for Rio Americano-Sacramento and Five Starz. The affable senior-to-be says that after placing second and third the past two seasons, gold is the standard this time.
“We have silver and bronze, so why not go for it,” Watson said.
Despite standing just 5-10, Vacaville’s Brie Gathright can jump out of the gym. She’s one of four Five Starz players who can touch a 10-foot basketball rim, and like Roseville senior-to-be Abby Jensen, the two are physically talented and have a drive to compete.
“(Jensen) is one of the more athletic ones on the team,” Colberg said. “And (Brie), she’s the best blocker on our team because she gets up and over the net.”
Jensen feels this team is peaking at the right time.
“It should be interesting to see how it all plays out,” Jensen said. “But we have high hopes for how we are going to do.”
Maddie Haynes, a 6-4 junior-to-be volleyball standout for Rocklin High got a phone call on June 17 with an offer she couldn’t refuse. That afternoon, Haynes, who is part of the starting rotation for Five Starz, was being called up to the USA Girl’s Youth National Volleyball team to compete at the NORCECA Women’s U-18 Continental Championships in Costa Rica.
The USA tournament ended midway through the Minneapolis tournament, and Haynes will fly directly there to meet up with the team and hopes to compete in the final two days.
NO DRAMA HERE An all-star group like this could easily be filled with personalities that overshadow the team.
There are no divas in the house when Colberg is coaching.
“It feel like Coach Debby is like your grandma, and you want to play hard because you don’t want to disappoint your grandma,” Gaitright said. “Because if you do something wrong, she’ll give you that look like, ‘you’ve done messed up.’ It’s funny, but at the same time, it makes you want to work hard.”
Jokes aside, this team is focused but knows when to let loose.
“We all really bond,” Watson said. “We are like a family.”
Practicing twice a week, you can see how excited the players are to see each other as they arrive from their neighborhoods. Kelley Wirth of Campolindo-Morago rushed over to greet her friends from Sacramento before a practice last week. Smiles all around, there are no egos here.
“We’ve created such a good bond over the years and everyone gets along really well,” Nocetti said.
“We are not a drama team, which is nice. We all have a common goal. And being with Debby for so long, we know when she means business.”
Colberg says that if there is a weakness with this team, it may be that there is no alpha dog in the group. While that helps with the fusion of personalities, it can hinder the drive on the court.
Despite taking home a title this season at the Colorado Crossovers Junior National Qualifier and silver at the Reno Far Westerns and the Las Vegas Classic, Colberg feels there is more in store.
“I don’t feel they’ve played to the top of their abilities yet,” Colberg said.
“If they get really competitive, they are going to be really hard to stop.”
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