It’s one thing to cobble a collection of players who hardly know each other and get them on the same page.
Then, it’s quite a feat to get this cobbled group to compete against similarly created teams. And to finish strong and hoist hardware? That’s when it becomes good living.
Such is the tricky nature of community college athletics, where student-athletes come and go, sometimes without warning, sometimes never to be seen again. This is a level where continuity can be a foreign concept.
Carson Lowden understands the nature of this beast, and she revels in a ripe challenge.
The third-year volleyball coach at American River College wasn’t sure how good of a group she had in August when practices started, and now Lowden cannot get over how good the Beavers became. ARC made history last month in winning the CCCAA Women’s Volleyball State Championship at Solano College, downing Fresno City in five dramatic sets.
It’s the first such state title for any regional women’s volleyball program, and ARC is just the third Northern California program to win a state title in the 42-year history of the event.
Finally, Lowden was able to catch her breath, but just for a moment through the holidays. The nature of this beast means it’s nonstop recruiting, the lifeblood of any college program and an especially frantic one at the JC level since there are no binding letters of intent.
“It’s exciting what we did, a lot of work, and the girls were great,” Lowden said. “I knew we had some talent this season, young talent, of course, but I had a quiet confidence that we had the personnel to do something special, and as a coach, I was thinking, ‘OK. I hope I don’t screw this up!’”
Turns out, the coach pushed all the right buttons, made the right adjustments and said the right things.
She added, “The turnover rate at the JC level is a big challenge. At a four-year program, coaches always complain that their team is so young. At the JC level, it’s really true because your sophomores are your leaders, and they’re going to be gone after the season, so you’re starting over. So it makes winning a state championship something special, a special accomplishment.”
A native of Yuba City who played four years of volleyball at UC Davis, finishing in 2009, Lowden is preparing for her 10th year as a college coach. Each stop has provided its own unique experiences and hurdles beyond mentoring student-athletes.
Specifically, the challenge of finding student-athletes to mentor and groom.
“I’ve gone through the recruiting game before,” Lowden said. “I was an assistant at Chico State, a great Division II school, and that is it’s own recruiting beast. Then, I was an assistant at Cal, and that’s a whole different world of recruiting, and then I’m at ARC. I came in thinking recruiting was hard at other places. Not even close!”
Lowden’s recruiting base is local, be it Placer County, or Grass Valley, up the Highway 50 corridor or in Solano County.
State tournament MVP Savanah Smith of Roseville High School was a bounce-back from Washington State. She will now head to Fresno State on scholarship. State all-tournament pick Kendall Welpott is a freshman middle blocker from Dixon, and libero Maddie Adams, another all-tournament selection, is a sophomore from Rocklin.
Freshman setter Bota Joslin, who was home-schooled locally, and freshman middle blocker Danica Minard of Nevada Union were also key contributors. ARC sent six players on its 2016 team to the four-year college ranks, and six more last season. There could be five more in the coming weeks and months who commit.
Lowden also beamed in announcing her team’s grade-point average was a robust 3.5.
“I care a lot about what I do, and I think all coaches who are truly into this, we all wear it all the time,” Lowden said. “It’s humbling to be doing this. I’m not the last step, I’m not the end game for these girls at this level. It’s nice to help these young women prepare for what’s next, and we talk a lot about what’s next in life. That’s where a community college can be big, a springboard.”
Athletics have been part of Lowden’s life since she was able to run.
Her grandfather, Perry Lowden, is in the Yuba College Hall of Fame for tennis and football. Her father, Scott, played tennis at Yuba College. Her mother, Jennifer, wasn’t a college athlete but she’s often the most fit one at the holiday dinner table, Lowden said.
And Lowden’s brother, Michael, won championships at Yuba City High in baseball and pitched at Cal.
A setter by trade, Lowden will still work up a sweat while running a practice. She still has some game.
“I’ll jump in there every once in a while,” she said with a laugh. “But warming up is a real thing for me now.”
Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson: firstname.lastname@example.org, @SacBee_JoeD, sacbee.com/high-school.