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Sosa, Wong getting key time as walk-ons for Matadors
Carolyn Sosa didn't expect to be doing this.
Neither did Melly Wong.
Two walk-ons aren't supposed to get frequent playing time for one of the best junior college volleyball teams in the country — especially two walk-ons from San Luis. With freshman Audi Diaz also on the team, nearly one-fourth of the Matadors roster is former Sidewinders.
“When people hear San Luis they just think, ‘Oh, San Luis.' Because they don't see us as athletes in any sport other than soccer,” said Sosa, a sophomore libero. “So it's really cool we're representing our hometown and it's three of us. I never thought we'd be here playing volleyball.”
“That was my dream. I knew I wanted to play somewhere in college — volleyball, especially. But coming from San Luis, the volleyball isn't as well known,” said Wong, a freshman libero.
In the fall of 2010, when Sosa was a senior and Wong was a junior at San Luis, the Sidewinders finished 9-9. It was a decent season but not spectacular. There were plenty of players in the area and across the country more talented than Sosa, who was a setter for the Sidewinders in her final two seasons. She seemed destined to the soccer field, considering she was the 2010 Yuma Sun/Rotary Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
Then Arizona Western volleyball coach Jason Smith came knocking.
“One of the easier decisions I've made. When I was recruiting, nobody in the city put in as much effort and determination in every time she touched the ball,” Smith said of Sosa. “Every time she touched the ball she was trying to win a point. People who do that and play with their heart, they win games for you.”
With two liberos ahead of her on the depth chart, the plan was to possibly have Sosa redshirt her freshman year — “I had to get used to the bench, I had to earn my spot.” But towards the end of the season, she got some playing time and now this year, she is sort of an example for Wong and Diaz.
“I think it's a big motivation. Because since Carolyn is a sophomore, I had a mind-set that if she can do it, I can do it,” said Wong, who got her first start in a sweep of Yavapai and had a team-high 19 digs.
But in the beginning of their careers, both Sosa and Wong had their share of self-doubt. With players from Las Vegas, Moscow and Brazil, how would some walk-on from San Luis be able to make it? Did they really belong on a college roster?
“In the beginning I kind of did. I would see all these international players that are on a different level and all the sophomores are all really good,” said Wong. “I don't think I was ready for the change from high school to college and there's times where I got really frustrated. Somehow I managed to keep it in my mind that I could do it and just tried to get better every day.”
“I was really tense. You could tell from my face. I was like a deer in a headlights,” Sosa admits.
But Smith saw something else. He saw Sosa's ability to do whatever she had to in order to track down the volleyball, which elevated the effort of the entire team. He saw Wong's athleticism and speed — probably second on the team behind freshman Amber Graham. In the two girls from San Luis, he saw the potential for two important pieces to building the perfect team.
“If I invite you in, I think you can do something. There was no part of me that thought you didn't belong,” Smith said. “If you think that I'm just recruiting talent, you'd be wrong. You have to recruit talent. You have to have some hitters, but you have to have the people that are the glue to the team.”
Currently, the Matadors are ranked No. 9 in the country — the highest for a Division-I school in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. Sosa said there are better players out there and it's a honor to get this kind of playing time for this kind of team. Wong calls this experience a dream come true. But Smith, well, he's not really surprised by his two walk-ons from San Luis.
“Quality teammates are quality teammates no matter what. I was able to see what those girls would do as far as work-ethic. I knew what good kind of people they are,” he said. “People who work that hard, that rubs off on their teammates.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881.