As the only varsity volleyball coach Deer Valley High School has ever known, Lou Panzella has seen his share of success. He's watched three girls teams and as many boys teams win Bay Valley Athletic League titles. His Wolverines have qualified for the North Coast Section finals a combined four times, and his girls have qualified for the NorCal tournament twice.
But according to Panzella, this year's varsity girls team is perhaps the most successful of all and the playoffs haven't even begun.
The Lady Wolverines went 15-0 in the BVAL this season, capturing the league title recently with a three-game win over Antioch. Liberty (12-3) finished in second place, followed by Heritage (10-5) in third.
Before this season, Deer Valley's best record stood at 36-7, but after last Friday's five-game win over Carondelet in non-league action, the Lady Wolverines were 36-4 overall.
In late October, Panzella's squad won its first-ever Northgate Tournament title with a 5-0 record. And last weekend, Deer Valley was awarded the No. 1 seed heading into the NCS playoffs.
And yet, Panzella insists, those accomplishments aren't how he measures success. With only one true star in setter Iris Tolenada, Panzella said it has taken a complete team effort to achieve its goals this season. Everyone plays their role perfectly, Panzella said. We really epitomize that the whole is greater than the parts.
Panzella beams with pride whenever he speaks of his team, which decided to raise awareness for breast cancer research at a fundraising event late last month. That proved the kind of character these girls have, Panzella said. What a joy it's been to coach this team. They work hard all the time, working at getting better, and they never complain or give me any attitude.
Senior outside hitter Elyse Rowland, a four-year varsity player, explained the role of the team's unique chants, cheers and handshakes that spectators can't help but notice.
We have so much fun on and off the court, Rowland said. We're all really good friends and it shows when we play together. The handshakes and stuff that just basically helps us get ready for the game and focus, but it's also really fun.
Deer Valley's No. 1 playoff seed earned it a bye in the first round of the Division I playoffs, which began on Wednesday night. No. 8 seed Liberty took on No. 9 James Logan on Wednesday in Brentwood after the Press went to print.
The winner of that contest plays Deer Valley in Antioch on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. No. 6 Heritage, a Division II program, also played on Wednesday against No. 11 seeded Concord High. Results were unavailable.