By Mike Wood
Special to Ohlone Athletics
FREMONT - The Ohlone College women's volleyball team is off to its best start since 2012, with a 12-2 record entering the week.
Even more impressive is the Renegades' resiliency in the face of injuries that could cause other teams to buckle under.
Outside hitter Hailey Amaral is playing with a torn labrum in her right shoulder. Still, she is tops in the Coast Conference South with an average of 0.76 service aces per set and is part of a core of sophomore leadership that has a been a catalyst for the strong start.
Most of the Renegades' 12 players have dealt with injuries this fall. But they managed to build momentum, which they want to carry into their Coast Conference-South opener at home against Las Positas on Friday, Sept. 28. Prior to that, they host Hartnell (13-2) on Sept. 26.
njuries have been a running theme, but no injury has been crueler than the one suffered by outside hitter Sabrina Quilalang. The team co-captain suffered her third season-ending torn ACL in as many years earlier this month. The latest injury halted an improbable, inspiring comeback by Quilalang, who tore her left ACL in her senior year at California High School in San Ramon, then again in 2017 as an Ohlone freshman, missing the final five matches that season. She still made the All-Conference First Team, and this year she seemed destined for bigger things, ranking third in the conference in hitting percentage (.228), fourth in kills per set (3.16) and in total kills (120) at the time she was sidelined.
Her example of resiliency and determination won't be lost on her teammates, and she will continue to make an impact for Ohlone.
"Personally she is one of the strongest people I know and is one of our very best players," Amaral said of Quilalang. "Seeing her working hard on her rehab, it set an example. You can be injured and you can push through it, and if you are mentally strong, that is all that matters."
For Amaral, how she deals with her own injury is something she hopes sets a good example.
"What I deal with is numbness and tingling, down to my fingers," said the Washington High-Fremont graduate. "It has taken a while and taken a toll, but this has taught me a lot about pushing thru and what my true strength is. Overall it has made me a stronger person and a stronger teammate, and I feel like I can be an inspiration to others. You want to be a good example, being brave and not being a baby."
The leadership of the sophomores has helped the freshmen get comfortable with the jump to community college volleyball.
"It's nice to have a group of sophomores, to have that experience show and how they conduct themselves," Ohlone coach Jeremy Penaflor said. "That really works well in that they help usher in the freshmen, who can just slot into their positions and let the sophomores do the heavy lifting."
Mental toughness is something Ohlone will need, particularly with Quilalang sidelined. It's a trait that Amaral saw emerge in spring workouts.
"In spring we had a different team," she said. "Our team is very different mentally. We were more emotional on the court last year; this year we are a lot stronger mentally and know how to finish the job."
Penaflor, in his 11th season as Ohlone’s head coach, noticed early on that this group had a chance to do special things. Last season Ohlone finished 15-10 and barely missed being selected for the final regional playoff berth. This time, they aim to make a much better case for themselves.
"In the spring, the concentration I saw in the individuals, and saw the work this group was willing to put in," he said. "Individually and collectively, it has been a while since we had a group that is this motivated."
Another sophomore captain, Katie Souza, has stepped up her game. She ranks second in conference in assists per set (8.63) and is third in service aces per set (0.74).
"I knew her freshman year she would be a solid setter for us," Penaflor said. "Last year she had so many questions and now she just gets it. She is so good defensively, is a vocal leader and is who we want our setter to be. She has been huge."
Another fiery competitor is starting libero Malia Silva, who leads the conference in digs (175) and is second in dogs per set (4.07).
"She has been a rock for us in the back row," Penaflor said. "She is the reason why our passing has been so good, and why our defense has been so good."
With conference play at hand, the Renegades can put their mental toughness on display.
"Our team is more injured but way more successful (than last year) though it has taken a toll physically," Amaral said. "It makes you think ... When we are healthier, just imagine how successful we can be."