For a head coach who has guided three of the last five American Canyon High volleyball teams to section playoff appearances, Katy O’Brien must be feeling pretty frustrated.
After 1½ campaigns in the seven-team Vine Valley Athletic League, the Wolves are still without a league win. They won 30 matches in the Solano County Athletic Conference over the previous four seasons under O’Brien.
“Switching leagues has been an adjustment for the program,” she said. “We’re still learning the tendencies of other teams and the crowds and everything. It all comes together and we’re struggling but I’m not worried about them fixing it. I think they’ll get it.”
About being 3-9 overall and 0-5 in the VVAL this season going into Tuesday night’s VVAL home match against Casa Grande, she said her team of four seniors, eight juniors and two freshmen, “Our team is working through some chemistry and learning the experience of the varsity level.”
Only eight of the 14 players came in with varsity experience – seniors Lena Vo (libero, defensive specialist), Caitlyn Abuan (outside hitter), Yani Kenion (right side hitter) and Aldine Lusung (setter, outside hitter), and juniors Caytlin Capulong (outside hitter, libero), Kenzie Dado (middle blocker), Kehaunani Wilson (setter) and Maria Magaoay (setter).
Vo, Abuan and Capulong are the captains.
The varsity newcomers are juniors Aungelhuisa-Mei Cabrera (defensive specialist), Madison Iwatsu (defensive specialist), Rachel Ritter (middle blocker) and Ava Boloyan (middle blocker, opposite hitter), and freshmen Arianna Pacheco (outside hitter, setter) and Giselle Torres (setter, outside hitter).
Capulong was one of five Napa County Player of the Year finalists last year after amassing 331 digs.
She said this year’s team isn’t short on ability.
“I think we’re all there skill-wise. We have our basics, we have our fundamentals,” she said after last Thursday’s three-set loss at Vintage. “I think it’s just that we need to find some sort of motivation to keep pushing on and to keep pursuing that (first league) win. Everybody has been playing at least two or three years.”
Nobody wants to be the first VVAL team to lose to the Wolves, but one that American Canyon may have a good chance of knocking off is Napa High on Thursday night. The Grizzlies beat the Wolves in four sets last month and are the only VVAL foe to not sweep them this year.
“It should be a good matchup,” O’Brien said of this week’s rematch at Napa High, where her American Canyon predecessor, Tara Brown, is the JV coach and a varsity assistant.
“I think that now that we’ve see pretty much every team except Casa Grande,” Capulong said Thursday, “we have a better idea of what our game plan should look more. Most of the time we went into the game with the same plan, just to stick with our basics and to focus on what we’ve been working on in practice. Now I believe that we’re able to formulate a better plan, just keep implementing our fundamentals with what we learned about the new teams.”
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American Canyon’s best set at Vintage was the third, where they scored 17 points.
“I think we realized that our first two sets weren’t as good as they should be and we knew we were better than that,” Capulong said. “We just decided to leave it all on the court and to play like there’s no tomorrow and not focus on the score. We just wanted to play together as a team and to build each other up.”
Despite standing just 5-foot-2, Capulong said neither she nor her teammates are intimidated by taller opponents.
“We’re used to being the shorter team,” she said, “so we work on things in practice where we have to get the ball around the taller players. We have to be smarter and faster and be able to read the other team and beat them to where the ball is.”
She said the team enjoys being together, which probably can’t even be said of some perennial powerhouse programs.
“Our team has really good chemistry. We’ve known each other for quite a while now, and I believe that with every game we have, we have fun,” Capulong said. “But we also realize that there needs to be some sort of seriousness to the game. But at the end of the day, it’s just to have fun. We’re here to be there for each other and we’re there to build each other up.”
The tallest player is Boloyan.
“She’s grown maybe an inch but she’s always been on the taller side,” O’Brien said. “She’s an impact player for us this year. She’s really stepped up to the varsity speed of the game, blocking and offense. She’s really learning her position well.”
O’Brien said the majority of her players compete on club teams – most for Club Solano, which has American Canyon junior varsity head coach Rick Manibusan coaches one of its younger squads.
“Every year we have more and more club players,” O’Brien said. “Not winning very many games makes it challenging to keep the morale up, but you can’t find a more positive group of girls in our league. They’re making the best of our situation.”
Three of her former Wolves have actually come back to help coach and get the Wolves back on track – 2014 graduate Josh Ann Yasol is her varsity assistant, and 2017 alumni Stephanie Lim and Olivia Reyes are co-coaching her freshman squad.
“It’s nice to have some alumni helping coach,” O’Brien said. “They know the system, they know our morals, and so I didn’t have to teach them that. They already had that coming in, which is an advantage for us as a coaching staff. Josh Ann helps coach offense, defense and everything. We kind of tag team everything together. It’s nice to have a second set of eyes on the team, and our personalities complement each other. So it’s a nice mix.
“Don’t give up on us.”