The Bakersfield College volleyball team does not shy away from the type of expectations that come with a one-loss regular season and a No. 2 seed in the Southern California Regional Playoffs.
Can you see yourself winning the quarterfinals? Can you picture winning the semifinals? Can you envision winning it all?
Already, before the playoffs started and before the seeding was even announced, head coach Carl Ferreira asked the BC players those questions.
“We talk about not being surprised,” Ferreira said. “I think what happens is sometimes the closer you get, but you don't know how that moment is supposed to be, then you're going to play tight. … After you can see all of that, then you go back to what you always do: take it one day at a time.”
After finishing the regular season 23-1 and winning the Western State Conference South Division, the Renegades earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. It’s just the second time in Ferreira’s 14 seasons at BC that the team is a top-four seed. The Renegades will host Mt. San Jacinto on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the opening round of the South Regional playoffs.
“I see no reason why this team couldn’t win it all,” Ferreira said.
As a team, BC is second in the state with a 33.9 hitting percentage, second with 12.05 assists per set and sixth with 16.5 points per set.
Sophomore setter Sarah Armendariz is fifth in California with 10.32 assists per set. Outside hitter Lanie Camarillo, a Liberty High School graduate, is seventh with a 37.6 hitting percentage.
Camarillo and fellow outside hitter Penelope Zepeda, a Frontier High School graduate, have been “outstanding,” Ferreira said. Armendariz is the “most unique setter that we’ve ever had,” the coach added, noting that she is also the team’s best blocker on the outside and the best athlete in the weight room.
“It’s not all about the stats,” Armendariz said. “It’s about your relationships with each other. That’s something we bring into the game really well. And I don’t think other teams really focus on that as much as we do.”
Armendariz’s view was the same position Camarillo, defensive specialist Jessica Merante and Ferreira took.
They were all caught by surprise with how cohesive the team was prior to the start to the year. And then when the year started, it translated into abnormally mistake-free play. It takes some teams two months to be as efficient as this BC squad was at the start of the year, Ferreira said.
“I don't think if we had any other type of team or team dynamic we could have gotten this far,” said Merante, a graduate of Bakersfield Christian High School. “With our fight with Canyons, it really was our connection, our chemistry that really pulled one another to create that flow. I’m getting chills just thinking about it.”
BC faced College of the Canyons twice near the end of the season in conference play. On the road on Oct. 17, the Renegades dropped both of the first two sets before pulling out the win. At home on Nov. 9 in the regular season finale, BC won in four sets after losing the first to earn the outright conference title.
The team was “impressive” in a “crisis situation for a team” during the first game, Ferreira said. It was the biggest galvanizing moment of the season, he said, and the team will rely on that in the playoffs.
“We found that connection in that adversity and it helped us overcome and tire them out and pull through for the win in the fifth set,” Armendariz said.
There were other big wins along the way — like when BC beat third-seeded El Camino — and many (18) three-set sweeps.
BC’s only loss came on Sept. 8 to Long Beach, 3-2, in a tournament. The Renegades have won 17 straight matches since. Long Beach is the No. 4 seed.
The Renegades goals involve making it to the state tournament and emerging as champions, but they’re not going to let that change who they are and what got them this far.
“Really just to connect with my teammates on a spiritual level,” Merante said of her priorities. “To reach out to them and to really get to this point of a high performance team that we’ve been training for.”