While in Calaveras High School, Ava Saiers only played volleyball for two years. She did not play in the freshman and lost her senior season to COVID-19. But in the two years she played, Saiers made the most of her time on the pitch.
Saiers was not only captain at Calaveras and helped lead her team deep into the playoffs in both her sophomore and freshman year, but she was also recognized as one of the best players in the league. In 2018 and 2019, Saiers was named Mother Lode League’s Most Outstanding Player.
Needless to say, Saiers didn’t spend much time on the Calaveras bench.
In high school, Saiers was a player who never left the field. But in college, she works as hard as she can to pass the time she can get in the field. After missing his senior volleyball season, Saiers decided to pursue his volleyball career and secured a spot at Feather River College, which has perhaps the best junior college volleyball program in California.
In 2019, Feather River won the CAAFC (California Community College Athletic Association) championship and is looking for a new performance.
With so much talent and high expectations at Feather River, Saiers had no guarantee of minutes on the pitch. She was told she would have the option to compete for playing time, and that’s all Saiers needed to hear.
“I like a good battle to fight for my place,” Saiers said. “Everyone’s here to win, and if I have to encourage myself really hard on the sidelines, then that’s what it takes. I just want the best for our whole team.
Feather River head coach Sarah Ritchie has led the program since 2006 and has had some of the best high school volleyball players play for her. Even though Saiers’ high school resume was extremely impressive, it was nothing Ritchie had never seen before. Ritchie lets all of his players know up front that it doesn’t matter what they did before putting on a Feather River uniform, it only matters what they do with one, which will determine playing time.
“With us it’s about setting expectations with everyone,” said Ritchie. “Everyone on our team was the MVP or the most outstanding player in high school; we have 19. I’m just open and transparent with them and letting them know what their role is, and that role can change at any time. Ava can be a libero, and then I’ll need her to play DS, and sometimes I’ll need her to sit on the bench and cheer us on with all her heart. All roles are important, and she really embraced that concept. “
Saiers added: “Every day you are supposed to play and, if you are not ready to play or willing to play, there is always someone to take your place. Knowing this prompts me to work my best every day.
While Saiers missed her senior volleyball season at Calaveras, she was still able to stay alert playing travel ball. However, even the speed and aggressiveness of travel volleyball doesn’t quite compare to what she sees as a member of Feather River’s 26-1 team.
“Everything is going very fast, and you have to rise to that level,” Saiers said. “Everything comes faster, stronger and from different angles. I do my best to concentrate and make the adjustments.
Not only does Saiers have to adjust to life at the university level, but she is also learning to be a student living away from home. Feather River College is located in Quincy, four hours north of the Mike Flock Gymnasium at Calaveras High School. With no big towns around Quincy, Saiers can only focus on two things: volleyball and school.
“We’re in a place in the middle of nowhere so our main focus every day is volleyball, school and being the best, so it’s been really cool,” Saiers said. “If you ever fight, there is always someone to lean on. We’re a very tight group, and that makes it so much easier. “
Saiers has seen more and more ground as his freshman season progresses. And with each match, she feels more comfortable on the floor. In 19 games, Saiers has nine serving aces, six assists and 65 digs. Saiers not only impressed Ritchie during games but also during practice.
“Ava is probably the hardest working kid in my gym every day,” Ritchie said. “She comes to work, pokes her head through a wall for you, and gives 100% every day. She is a child without drama, whom I adore at the college level. She plays with all her heart and I would like to have 20 Avas on my team.
After missing out on her entire senior season at Calaveras, Saiers is delighted to be back in a squad. And while she isn’t the centerpiece of the team, Ritchie believes her time will come.
“Ava knows next year is her time, and I’m happy that I can continue to get her into games,” said Ritchie. “She’s got a heart and she made some big plays for us that changed all the momentum in games because she’s so fast and she’s a phenomenal athlete. She is a very special child and we are very grateful to have her in our program.
Saiers loved to play volleyball in Calaveras and feels the same about Feather River. But even after completing his second season in 2022, Saiers has no plans to hang up his knee pads. Her goal is to transfer to a four-year college and continue her volleyball life. And if she has to start all over from the bottom and work her way to the top, Saiers will gladly accept the challenge.
“I want to play at the highest level possible and keep playing for as long as possible,” she said.