James Todd made a decision in August that initially left him wondering and worrying.
There were even some sleepless nights for the Whitney High School volleyball coach when he decided to put five freshmen on the varsity roster.
Four became starters, and eight weeks later, the No. 14 Wildcats (15-12) are rolling after a rough start defined by growing pains.
Whitney last week beat No. 11 El Camino in four sets to create a three-way logjam atop the Capital Athletic League. Whitney, El Camino and No. 13 Rio Americano each are 4-1in league.
Whitney beat Enochs of Modesto on Saturday for the Bronze Division championship at the Stockton Classic.
The recent results are a far cry from the team's 1-9 start, which was a direct result of good competition, inexperience and playing a returning starter at a new position. Todd asked Kori Silva to move to setter, a position the senior had not played. She leads the team with 219 assists.
Nine of Whitney's 12 losses have come to top-20 teams, including seven in the first 10 matches. Todd expected early speed bumps.
"I didn't know where the pieces of the puzzle were going to fit," he said. "We are the only team in the area doing what we are doing, starting four freshmen. I knew that was going to be a tough start."
Seniors Silva and MacKenzie Berlin are surrounded by freshmen Samantha Shelton, Macey Hayden, Ellie Basquez and Gabrielle Roberts in the starting lineup for the Wildcats, who are 9-2 since losing a five-set match to Rio Americano on Oct. 10.
Todd said the team transformation came after losing to Woodcreek 3-2 on Sept. 12.
"After that point, we have been competitive in every match," Todd said.
He said the youthful enthusiasm of his team is rubbing off on him.
"This is a very tight-knit and goofy bunch," Todd said. "My coaching staff is a bunch of jokesters, and the players are a bunch of jokesters. But they know how to separate the two. That's the great thing. It's the most fun group I've ever had."
That also is the biggest surprise for Todd this season. It often has been the freshmen who have stepped up on the court and in team huddles. The vocal leader has been the 6-foot-3 Shelton, whose power has resulted in 121 kills.
"Sammie is one of the most coachable kids," Todd said. "She leaves practice dripping with sweat. One of the hardest workers I've ever coached. I am really excited to coach her and the rest of the girls for the next few years."
Unbeaten Grizzlies Top-ranked Granite Bay continues to roll. After beating No. 4 Rocklin in straight sets Wednesday to take sole possession of first place in the Sierra Foothill League, the Grizzlies won the Gold Division at the Stockton Classic.
The Grizzlies (27-0) defeated nationally ranked Mitty of San Jose 2-0 in the final. Granite Bay has won 50 consecutive sets since beating Harbor of Santa Cruz 2-1 on Sept. 21.
No. 7 Monterey Trail won the Silver Division title in Stockton.