By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The first trip to the national college men’s club volleyball championships has gone better than expected for Santa Rosa Junior College.

And perennial contender Sonoma State has fared well coming out of one of the nation’s toughest club leagues.

Both teams reached the championship round of their divisions and return to action today inside the Kansas City Convention Center. The National Collegiate Volleyball Federation Club Championships has 360 teams competing in nine divisions.

“We’re extremely happy not knowing what we were getting into,” said Ryan Affleck, who played the sport at El Molino and helped form the SRJC team a year ago.

In their second season, the Bear Cubs are made up of former Lions players — Sonoma County’s lone CIF boys’ team — and graduates from Marin high schools and former Sonoma County high school club players.

What the team lacks in numbers it makes up for in heart.

“We’re kind of a small team,” Affleck said. “But we don’t break down easily. We’re mentally tough. We fight the whole time.”

Santa Rosa wanted another challenge after winning the Division II north half of the Northern California Collegiate Volleyball League. SRJC lost only one league match.

At the national tournament, Santa Rosa is competing in Division IAAA. The Bear Cubs swept Thursday’s three matches to reach the championship round.

Reaching the championship bracket up in Division II puts Sonoma State in contention for another national title, having won in 2010.

“We have a pretty good chance this year,” said Ethan Weitz, one of four players back from that title team. “There’s a lot of talent here, but we can play with anyone.”

The Seawolves come into the tournament after another tough season in the Northern California Collegiate Volleyball League’s top division. Sonoma State is the only Division II team in the league.

Ranked tenth in DII nationally, Sonoma State is young in college experience but deep in skilled players. Much of the team is made up of players who competed on boys’ CIF teams in California.

“We’re very deep on our bench,” said Weitz, who played at Notre Dame High, in Sherman Oaks.

Fresh legs can make the difference in the national tournament, with teams playing several matches each day.

Not knowing most opponents means teams must often make adjustments to win.

“It’s a high level of competition and it’s fun to play like that,” Affleck said.