Pirates feeling right at home as season approaches

Pirates feeling right at home as season approaches

The 2018 Orange Coast College women's volleyball team will feature several new faces from zip codes both here and abroad as NINE out-of-state players highlight longtime head coach Chuck Cutenese's 16-player roster.

"It's definitely the most out-of-state players we've had on a team," Cutenese said. "Having kids from out of state requires a bigger commitment from the players when it comes to housing, finances, etc. From what I've seen, it's a very committed group of women. At the start of training, it's hard to get everyone together at the same time due to family vacations and athletes coming and going, but so far, it's a great group with lots of talent at each position.

"We are a bit freshmen-heavy, but the newcomers are learning the system quickly and looking at each position, we are full at all of them. Several of our athletes played in multiple sports in high school, which I love because there's less chance of burnout and they're more excited for the challenge."

With only three returning players and one transfer sophomore, the majority of the Pirate roster will have to learn on the fly against some tough competition, but Cutenese is pleased with the chemistry of his well-traveled team. "The majority of the athletes all live in the same apartment complex, so there's a lot of together time between all of them," Cutenese said. "They're a very close-knit group already and I only see that getting stronger as the season progresses."

The aforementioned transfer for the Pirates is 5-foot-6 sophomore setter Camryn Kaina, who comes to Coast after a year at Westmont College. Joining her at the position is 5-9 freshman Shannon Stone. "Both are outstanding setters and I wouldn't be surprised to see both of them on the floor at the same time," Cutenese said. "Both are great athletes and leaders on the floor. They both connect well with our middle blockers and I really feel that's a position where we will be very strong at this year."

A key returner to the Pirates in 2018 will be libero Rylee Adair, who earned second-team, All-Orange Empire Conference honors for the Pirates last year. As a freshman, Adair's strong defensive play earned her 501 digs, the third-most in one season in school history.  Adding to the experience on defense is sophomore Mackenzie Bill, who played in all 27 matches for OCC and notched 125 digs. "We really have great stability on defense with Rylee and Mackenzie," Cutenese said. "Rylee is a co-captain and has the ability to be one of the best liberos we've ever had here, while Mackenzie has a year of experience in our system after coming from a great high school program at Edison HS." Maddy Bergdahl will be the freshman libero and with hard work and learning the system will get her opportunities as the season progresses. Maddy's aunt, Julie Bergdahl, played on Coast's 1980 state championship team under coach Jane Hilgendorf.

Returning to her normal position on the right side is sophomore opposite Evelyn Awai. After moving to the outside hitter spot last year, Awai ripped 161 kills to go along with 118 digs, but should see even bigger numbers as she returns to her more comfortable spot on the floor. "We had to move her to outside after we had some injuries last year, but the right side is her more natural position," Cutenese said. "That experience and being more comfortable will help her be a more consistent hitter for us this year."

On the outside, Coast has five freshmen who provide Cutenese with a plethora of options, including 5-10 Halley Herder, 5-6 Kulia Cummings, 5-10 Bailey Coffin, 5-10 Kristi Black and 5-8 Raigan Ramos. "Hally is our freshman co-captain and is really a strong, solid athlete on the outside," Cutenese said. "Kulia is a bit shorter but she possesses more ball control at the attack. Bailey and Kristi both have strong high school and club volleyball pedigrees, while Raigan is a dependable player who makes very few mistakes when she's on the floor. Bailey is strong and solid and improving fast, she is expected to make great contributions."

In the middle, Coast brings five talented players into the mix, including 6-0 freshman Lily Johnson, who could be an X-factor for the Pirates' success in 2017. "She's such a find for us," Cutenese said of Johnson. "She can hit all sets and really moves well out there. She will be a big factor for us both on offense and defense."

Joining Johnson up the middle include several freshmen – 5-8 Hannah Hale, 6-0 redshirt freshman Julia Rudy, 5-9 Carolina Rojas and late comer 5-11 Cindy Gutierrez. "Hannah is a solid athlete who can really jump well and knows the position." Cutenese said. "Julia knows our system after being here last year and once we get her back healthy, she will be a solid contributor. Carolina needs more experience, but she works hard and is a fast learner. I love her work ethic and the more she plays, the better she will get. Cindy joined us a after the summer class and will need some time to adjust to the Coast system. She is athletic and coachable, with time will be a factor in the middle."

As for a prediction on the always-tough Orange Empire Conference, Cutenese focused more on the job in front of him. "I'm not really sure about the rest of the teams, but I like the group I have here," he said. "I'm hoping with all of these talented first-year players, this is the type of season where we continue to improve and get better as the season goes along. I'm looking forward to seeing what this team can become."