NorCal’s No. 1-Ranked Team Headed Into November, James Logan Isn’t A Prototypical Volleyball Power — But The Colts Have Learned How To Win, And Now They Want Banners •
Imposing? Nah. Intimidating? Hardly. But the James Logan High girls volleyball team gets the job done, again and again.
Short in stature but growing in reputation, the Colts of Union City have parlayed a surprising run to last year’s CIF Division I state championship game into a knack for collecting impressive wins. They have graduated into the big time.
“When we walk into the gym or when we get warmed up and get ready to play, we don’t look like the team that is going to win the tournament,” Colts coach Matt Guzman said. “We are basically the shortest team every time. We are not the flashiest either, but we play the right way, and we play smart. There’s something special going on right now, something clicking. The girls even surprise me sometimes.”
The Colts (30-7) are certainly a known quantity now, thanks to their speed, defense, grit and determination. They entered the North Coast Section championships in the rare position of No. 1 seed in Division I, a spot usually awarded to the top team in the East Bay Athletic League.
After winning their quarterfinal 25-16, 25-22, 25-21 over Santa Rosa, they now will have to go through EBAL teams to gain their first NCS title since 1992. The Colts meet California-San Ramon on Oct. 31, with Pleasanton powers Amador Valley and Foothill meeting in the other semifinal.
“I have confidence in this team, and for right now, the focus is on winning NCS because it’s something we have not done in a long time,” junior libero and co-captain Abigail Viado said. “Having the home-court advantage is important, too.”
They will seek to be the first non-EBAL school to win Division I since 2005 (Liberty-Brentwood). They were so close last year, losing 17-25, 26-24, 26-24, 20-25, 15-11 to four-time champion Monte Vista-Danville. Undeterred, the Colts ran off four NorCal wins — losing only one set along the way — to play in the state championship, won by Santa Margarita-Rancho Santa Margarita 25-19, 25-12, 25-13.
“Last season we didn’t know how far we were gonna go,” Guzman said. “We were a young team that kind of went with the flow. We were very happy to make school history.”
That history included finishing with a 40-5 record and also emerging on the recruiting map, as star Tatiana Toleafoa, that team’s lone senior, completed her Logan career and went to Cal State Fullerton. The college radar remains cast on James Logan, as Taumafa Tuinauvai recently committed to San Jose State. Colleges from well outside the area gain some Bay Area geography lessons when inquiring.
“Colleges when they call don’t know where Logan is, or where Union City is,” Guzman said. “Tati and Mafa have put the school on the map (for volleyball), and have earned the respect of colleges.”
That recognition has served as reinforcement for this year’s Colts and their standing in the volleyball scene.
“I think since we’re normally seen like underdogs because we are not the tallest team, it brings confidence to our team,” Viado said. “It shows we are one of the better teams in Logan history and that our success doesn’t have to stop here. … It can be beyond high school.”
This season, the Colts needed to replace the production of Toleafoa, who led the 2017 team in kills and was second in digs.
“I knew it would not be with just one player,” Guzman said. “So this year, I told the girls we are going to be a good team, but we are going to be different, and we had to find different ways to get there.”
There were adjustments. Tuinauvai moved from the middle to outside. Her younger sister Josephina moved into the starting lineup at middle blocker. Angelina Estrada made the move from libero/defensive specialist to outside and has emerged as a top-notch server.
Still, it was a shaky start on Labor Day weekend at the Dave Mohs Memorial Tournament in Newport Beach, where James Logan went 2-4.
“Coming back this season, the focus was more serious,” Guzman said. “We only lost one senior so I knew we had a good shot to go all the way. During the preseason our players struggled with the expectations and the pressure. Before, we were more under the radar.”
Things started clicking at the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, where the Colts matched up with the likes of Mater-Dei-Santa Ana and teams from as far as Utah and Arizona and won four of five matches to finish 20th out of 64 teams.
They went on to beat Cosumnes Oaks-Elk Grove (a 2017 NorCal opponent) and Oak Ridge-El Dorado (which beat James Logan last year) at the Christine Craft Memorial Tournament. In their final tuneup before the playoffs, they beat Christian Brothers-Sacramento, Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove, Exeter and then Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland in the finals at the Stockton Classic.
“O’Dowd is playing some good volleyball, and it was one of most exciting games we have played this season,” Guzman said. “We know a lot of their players. Oakland and Union City are not far apart and both teams are very diverse.”
Along the way, Guzman saw this year’s team honed the mental toughness that’s emblematic of championship teams. If the Colts start slow as has happened at times, they have learned to dig down deep. And remember what it’s like to play in a state championship game.
“Regrouping, this is part of mental toughness,” he said. “I tell them they have been to the state championship. … There is no more pressure than that game. You have got to take that experience and bring it to this competition.”
Along the way they have learned to not press too much, and keep focused. Sometimes, Guzman thinks the players don’t realize how high the caliber of tournaments are that they compete in, which might be a good thing.
“They are just going with the flow and just playing,” Guzman said. “I don’t think they realize what we are accomplishing. I tell them to focus on our side of the net, see our teammates, and our side of court. They are focused, able to block out the noise, the distractions as we try for the ultimate goal.”
Those goals and a sense of confidence are evident as the Colts share another postseason adventure together.
“I think we still have that championship mentality,” Viado said. “Knowing that we have the skills to do it has made us more focused for doing it this year.”