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Walking into the gym at Solano Community College, one can’t help but see the recent success of the girls’ volleyball team.
Hanging high above the court is banner after banner after banner of the Falcons, who collect Bay Valley Conference titles like a library collects books. The Falcons won in 2021, as well as in 2001-2002, 2006, 2013 and 2017 through 2019.
Solano’s 2022 squad feels no pressure to duplicate the success of an undefeated record in conference play in 2021 and 2019 (there was no season in 2020).
“When you first get here, you feel the pressure, but now it’s not so bad,” said Crystal Carroll, a graduate of Will C. Wood High and Falcon’s swingman. “As a sophomore, you’re just trying to be good and the expectation is to play your game. Last year we just wanted to play well for the sophomore class. Hopefully it will be the other way around this year and the freshmen want to play well for us.”
“Control the controllable,” added sophomore Dani Rydjord, a Vacaville High graduate.
The Falcons celebrated their season opener on Friday night, hosting Hartnell and San Joaquin Delta in the Solano Classic. The Falcons host Sequoias and Folsom Lake on Wednesday with the first game scheduled for 3 pm that day.
Falcons head coach Darla Williams, entering her 20th season at the helm, says not much has changed during her tenure. She still loves training and is excited for the new year and the women’s group.
“We’re not really doing anything different. We’ve been very consistent in having good local players,” Williams said. “Once again, it’s exciting and I love that this year we even have some players on the team from outside of Solano County.”
One of William’s best players is Sammy Brown, an outside hitter and Vacaville High graduate who won BVC MVP last year.
“He’s gotten a lot smarter on the court since he’s been playing a lot of grass and sand volleyball,” Williams said. “She realizes that as her returning MVP, other teams will try to stop her. But I think she doesn’t feel the pressure because she loves to play so much.”
Brown agreed with his coach.
“I’m just trying to play the game again,” Brown said. “It’s important not to think too much about anything and to have the same mentality that I had last year.”
Playing on the other side opposite Brown will be Vanden High freshman Kelsey Murray-Wall.
“It’s good to have two solid outside attackers,” Williams said of Brown and Murray-Wall. “Kelsey is a potential six-rotation player.”
Carroll will be the team’s libero, while Rydjord will play a new position, setter.
“She (Rydjord) really stepped up and helped the team by becoming a setter since last spring. She has done a good job in her new position.”
Rydjord said she always wanted to be a setter, but because she was always one of the tallest players on her teams, she always played up front. This year she has made it her mission to be part of the BVC first team again.
“I think if there’s any pressure on me it’s that I have a goal of being an all-conference first-team player again in a new position,” Rydjord said. “I want to prove myself as a setter. But I don’t mind the pressure. It’s like they say, ‘Pressure makes diamonds.’”
Solano will also feature freshman defensive specialists Eryka Ferrer from Jesse Bethel High and Jailynn Bermudez from Fairfield High.
Playing in the middle or right side will be Wood’s freshman Hannah Del Rio, as well as Vacaville High graduate Liliana Ayala. Carondelet’s Codi LePak-Murphy will also be in the middle or right side, while College Park’s Haley Woodworth will play setter. Layla Morales is a Rodriguez setter who has played club volleyball.
Rydjord said each year the team’s preseason games against very tough opponents help prepare the Falcons for conference play.
“We learn something from every one of those games,” Rydjord said. “Whether it’s against a top 10 or top five team in the state, we’re always learning. Even when we lose, it prepares us for the league season.”
Both Brown and Rydjord and Carroll agreed that the only thing the Falcons need to improve on is their strength as a team.
“Something I really like about this team is our willingness to learn and be positive in drills,” Carroll said. “The enthusiasm is there. We need a little more time to get to know each other. If the ball is hit this way, I need to know if that’s something Dani would go for it or if Sammi is there for it. That’s something we all need to learn, it’s what works well for us.”