* Editor’s note: This is the second in a nine-part series previewing the Davis High fall sports.
What’s staying the same — 10 returning players and the “return” of coach Julie Crawford — has the 2014 edition of the Davis High girls volleyball team thinking big.
But what’s different — the addition of 2013 playoff squads St. Francis and Pleasant Grove to their already rugged conference — has the Blue Devils very aware that success won’t come easy.
The new-look Delta League features not only last year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division I runners-up in the Troubadours and the Eagles — who beat another league foe in Monterey Trail in a SJS postseason match — but also the conference champ and D-II playoff team Elk Grove. DHS finished second to the Thundering Herd last season at 7-3 in league play and went 19-12 on the year, including a first-round playoff loss.
“Our goal is to have a winning record and make playoffs,” said Crawford, who also led the Devils into the section quarterfinals in 2012. “We will have tough competition this season and so each day in the gym, we are preparing to be the tough competitors I know that we can be.
“I am confident that the hard work the girls did over the summer and so far this preseason will pay off.”
One reason Crawford is confident that her team can compete with the high-quality Delta League opposition is the leadership that will be provided by no fewer than seven seniors. The 14-girl roster also includes punch from the younger grades as sophomore studs Karlie Kijanka and Samantha Moore are back for their second varsity seasons and freshman Cody Hargadon joins the fray.
“We are a mix this season of experience and younger players,” said the fourth-year coach. “I am lucky to have quality leaders to set such a positive example of commitment, hard work, passion and team spirit, to the younger players.”
So who is back to swing big for these Blue Devils?
Leading the list is senior Maya Gilardo, a returning all-league first-teamer who Crawford is counting on as a “go-to player all the way around the court. She swings hard and brings a lot of volleyball IQ.”
When Gilardo is on the offensive, she will be joined by Kijanka — who brings “a powerful arm swing and a wicked serve” — and Irene Rutazihana, a senior who is coming off of a breakout season.
“(Rutazihana) will play middle this year again and I look forward to seeing her excel in that position,” Crawford explained. “She learned a lot and improved in that same position last year and I look forward to seeing her reach an even higher level of her game this season. She is also a go-to hitter in the front row.”
On the back line, Moore will be the Robin to senior Kimmy Siu’s Batman in forming a dynamic defensive duo.
“Both read the court well and show hustle and heart on every single play,” Crawford said. “They will be the playmakers in the back row.”
Senior Makena Sherwood, who played in the Davis program as a sophomore before moving away for the fall of her junior year, has returned to run the Devil offense as the setter.
While those players may lead the way, Crawford said she expects to get contributions from the entire roster, beginning Friday when the locals host Vacaville Christian at 5 p.m.
“I believe we will be a very strong serving team. One of our goals is to always ‘control the controllables’ and one way we work to do that is being tough servers and serve in the 90 percent range each game.”
Though she coached the team the past three seasons, Crawford is, in a way, making her return to DHS volleyball.
Crawford — who also teaches physical education at Davis High — was removed as the boys volleyball coach before the 2013 spring season, setting off a controversy that galvanized the community and led to the resignation of a school board member. Crawford had coached the boys in 2011-12.
After sitting out as boys coach that season, Crawford was officially back as girls coach after a March 21 school board vote.
“What I love to do is coach and teach, and I am so happy to be coaching and teaching this group of girls,” Crawford said. “I have moved forward and am just happy to be here doing the job that I love.
“I continue to be inspired by my players, my colleagues and my mentors, and I am optimistic, excited and ready for a successful season — and year — ahead, doing what I love to do: coach DHS volleyball.”
— Reach Chris Saur at [email protected] or 530-747-8049.