Modesto Junior College had a playoff-worthy volleyball team which didn't make it to the postseason last year.
That's not an opinion of third-year coach Dave Winfrey; it's a fact. The Pirates finished the year ranked 14th in Northern California at 15-12 overall. The top 16 teams usually earn playoff berths.
But Modesto was denied when it finished fifth in the Central Valley Conference with a 9-7 record. Only the top two teams in each conference are guaranteed playoff spots, and the Pirates were left out.
They're looking to solidify their position this season, moving into the Big 8 Conference with the most athletic team Winfrey and staff have recruited and a greater sense of unity.
"We're excited," Winfrey said. "We're a playoff team. Not going last year, it makes the sophomores want it more and helps pump up the freshmen."
Sophomores Corrisa Jacomini, Allison Perkins and Kelsey Wingo are the cornerstones.
Jacomini was the team's most valuable player, Wingo a first-team all-CVC pick and Perkins earned an honorable mention.
Between the returners, including a redshirt sophomore, and additions to his staff, Winfrey said the Pirates are establishing a program built on pride.
"We're starting to create a sense of family," Winfrey said. "They have to feel a little ownership. That's an important part in them finishing school. We're going to help get them through the system and keep them playing."
Jacomini said having a close-knit group isn't a goal or a lofty ideal. After just two weeks together, she said the Pirates felt like sisters and the comfortability helps them work together.
"When I was a freshman, I looked up to the sophomores," Jacomini said. "Now it's a matter of filling in their positions and taking it to a higher level."
Despite the early absence of a dominant hitter, Winfrey sees potential in Turlock's Allison Mikkelsen and Beyer's Tanya Jennings. The strong play of Turlock's Amanda Musso has been a pleasant surprise, he said.
Shinez Waites, who spent the last two years playing basketball for Modesto, Hughson's Stephanie Doerksen, who played basketball last year, and Melissa Groll of Pitman are new additions to the roster.
Turlock's Elizabeth Gutierrez will start at setter, though Ripon's Brittany Nielsen may also see some time there and two other players have experience.
"It's a nice thing to have options this year," Winfrey said.
In moving from the CVC to the Big 8, Winfrey said the Pirates go from one tough league to an even tougher one.
"We don't have a lot of slouches on the schedule," he said. "It's going to be a challenge. Our goal is to make the playoffs. We've just got to get it done. We're going to have a great season regardless of what happens."