DII notebook: Cal Baptist volleyball's Kralj makes smooth transition
Last Monday, California Baptist junior setter Sydney Kralj learned she was selected PacWest Conference player of the week. It came as a pleasant surprise for her.
In volleyball, the big hitters usually draw the attention. But it takes talented setters to put hitters in position to get kills. Kralj has excelled in that area this season, helping the Lancers to a 12-4 record overall and 7-1 in the PacWest.
“Honestly, I feel so blessed, especially being a setter, most of my stats come from my team,” Kralj said. “I get to run a great offense because of the defensive specialist. Getting an honor like that for me throws so much honor to my team.
“It shows how hard we have been working because I can have an epic game and play out of my mind, but at the end of the day, it is all about the win. It is not about how many kills we get, how many digs we get, but how we play as a team. I am lucky enough to have two of some of the best coaches in Division II or Division I in this nation.”
Kralj, who is majoring in communication with a minor in marketing, feels blessed she landed at California Baptist. Last spring, she was looking for a school to complete her college education and play volleyball. She already knew what California Baptist had to offer. Coach Branden Higa recruited her out of high school.
“When we got the permission to contact her in the spring, we were really excited to get another crack at her,” Higa said. “We had to see where she had developed and where she was at.”
The Lancers found out quickly how serious Kralj was about joining the volleyball program. During spring workouts, the Lancers practice at 5:30 a.m.
Kraji was eager to work out with the team at that early hour.
“This would be the perfect opportunity for me to see what it is like for them,” Kralj said. “Are they still getting after it like every other team hopes to do in the mid-offseason?
“It was amazing. We clicked right away. I had so much fun playing with them. And the fire they had on both sides of the net was intense and made me fall in love with the team.”
Higa also felt the energy and saw immediately how Kralj clicked with the team.
“We walked in the gym that morning and she was warming up with the team and it brought a lot of energy to the gym that morning,” Higa said. “Somebody who has that kind of spirit, we want that on our team.”
California Baptist is coming off a 21-7 season, but the Lancers were 14-6 in conference play. They are off to a better start in conference this season, and on Saturday they showed their resiliency.
After losing a five-set match at home to Notre Dame De Namur, the Lancers went on the road and played Concordia, which had lost only one match. California Baptist won a five-set match, taking the fifth set 15-13.
“We have been playing well,” Higa said on Thursday. “We got a couple of big matches where we hit very well and defended very well. In terms of where we are at, we are in a good spot.
“They are ready to go forward. Always a worry as a coach, coming off a tough loss, is how are we going to respond. We are ready to go. One loss doesn’t define a team.”
It is that positive spirit within the California Baptist volleyball program that causes Kralj to know she has found a home for her final two years of collegiate competition. She knew it that first practice last spring at 5:30 a.m.
“I felt a connection with the team,” she said. “The first time didn’t work out for a reason. But God has shown me his path, and I am so blessed to have found a home at a school I love to play for.”
CSU-Pueblo women’s cross country on path for a strong finish
Over the next couple of weeks, the CSU-Pueblo women’s cross country team will be training for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference meet on Oct. 22 in Spearfish, South Dakota.
Thanks, in part, to the performances by senior Bailey Hughes and junior Miriam Roberts at the Chile Pepper Cross County Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the team will be training with plenty of confidence. Hughes finished third in Division II and 31st overall and Roberts was right behind her, taking fourth and 32nd overall. They helped CSU-Pueblo finish first out of 40 schools in Division II in the Oct. 1 meet.
Also helping the first-place finish was senior Jordan Mathes, who was ninth among Division II runners.
“It is huge,” Hughes said of teammates running close together. “It is so good to have them there to support you and know they are running just as hard as you are. It also really helps for race strategy to be able to work together and to help go ahead of some runners that you couldn’t by yourself. You work together as a team.”
Hughes, who was selected RMAC runner of the week last Wednesday, would love to return to the NCAA Division II Championships this season with all her teammates. Last year Hughes and Roberts qualified as individuals.
Coach Matt Morris takes the blame for Hughes and Roberts not doing better. It was the first time as a Division II coach he took runners to the national meet.
“Both Miriam and Bailey ran great at the regional meet,” Morris said. “I didn’t do a very good job of getting them ready for the national meet. I was trying to guesstimate how it would go. It started so fast and Miriam and Bailey kind of got swallowed up and they had to work their way through the pack and it was kind of draining.”
Hughes said it was a great experience.
“I was really excited going into it,” she said. “I think when I was done, I was pretty frustrated with how I ran. It was good motivation for the rest of the year. Kind of one of those races you will think about when you wake up and you don’t really want to go train, but you think about nationals.
“It was good experience to motivate us this year. It is something Miriam and I talk about a lot when we have a hard workout. We focus on making this year a lot better than last year.”
One reason Morris wanted his women’s and men’s teams to compete in the large Chile Pepper cross country meet was to get a feel for how it will be at the national meet.
Now both of his teams are focusing on their training in preparation for the championship portion of the schedule that starts in late October and hopefully extends through mid November.
“We front loaded our schedule on purpose,” Morris said. “We knew both teams would be competitive and our goal is to make nationals on both sides. It gives us a chance to step back and look at what we need to do with both teams, sure things up and put in a better situation when the regional rolls around. Our regional is extremely difficult as is our conference so you can’t coast into anything.”
Will Reyes continues strong senior season for Chico State men’s cross country
Fresh off of winning his fifth in eight collegiate cross country races on Oct. 1, senior Will Reyes took second place in the 24th annual Triton Classic on Saturday. Junior Connor Fisher placed third. In fact, the entire Chico State team did well, as five of the top seven runners were Wildcats.
“We definitely push each other a lot,” Reyes said earlier last week. “In team workouts, not everybody is going to have a best day, and if somebody isn’t having a best day, we will encourage each other through the workouts. A lot of time during the workout, we are all together and that is awesome.
“Our team is looking stronger than ever. A lot of workouts it is more than seven us together. It is really cool to see.”
Chico State, which is ranked fourth in the USTFCCCA Top 25, is now turning its attention to the postseason portion of its schedule.
“This is arguably one of the best teams we have had,” Chico State coach Gary Towne said. “We have some good front runners with Will and two of the other guys. We have a really strong pack. There is a lot of potential as we look ahead to the championship season.
“They are putting in a lot of miles. It is still quite ways out. We are also training for a 10K, which is a demanding distance. They are putting in some heavy mileage and they will be for the next several weeks before we consider backing up much.”
Reyes has only gotten better each season. After he transferred from American River Community College, he redshirted his first year at Chico State.
“It definitely helped a lot,” Reyes said. “Coming into the program, the training was completely different. Having no pressure to adjust immediately, I was able to take my time without having the pressure of competing on top of the training. It helped a lot to adjusting to competing at this level.”
Reyes really came into his own last spring at the outdoor national track and field meet. He placed second in the 10K and two days later finished fourth in the 5K.
“He has kept that momentum going into this season,” Towne said.
Reyes said he is running fairly well.
“I still haven’t reached where I think I should be, but I am still in pretty good shape,” Reyes said. “But I have a lot of room to grow.
“For me, this is like one of the most important parts of the season. You want to keep doing everything you have been doing during the season and not get caught up with what is going on whether it is going well or poorly. You try to stay focus and not get caught up in anything.”