After a successful finish to the 2015 season, the DVC women's volleyball team is optimistic and excited about the new campaign. 
What's the strength of the squad? 
"We have a lot of power this time," returning middle hitter Jade Lee of Northgate said. "We're not as tall, but we have a lot more strength. We have a variety of players that all contribute into one big team." 
The Vikings, who open the season against Yuba in Redding on Sept. 2 in the Shasta Classic, have a solid group of returners under coach Jackie Ponciano-Babb, led by Lee, an honorable mention all-Big 8 Conference selection.
Lee, who is interested in transferring to UNLV, is optimistic about the team's chances. 
"We're meshing together and working really well," Lee said. "We're pretty excited to have the new freshman too. I'm pretty hopeful for the season. … We're already a family, pretty much." 
Other key sophomores are RS Kaitlyn Rudolph, of Steamboat Springs, Colo.OH Cailey Rocquemore of HeritageDS Taylor Chow and S Jamie Chow, both of Piedmont, and DS Brittany Portello of Benicia. 
Ponciano-Babb gives the freshman newcomers high marks. MH Ashley Dixon of Liberty is a solid player who will help balance the middle front position. 
OH Isabel Villalobos of St Patrick/St. Vincent is a versatile and strong athlete 
"She's an aggressive hitterconsistent passer and relentless defender who does it all with a smile on her face," Ponciano-Babb said of Villalobos.   
Newcomer S Jasmine Assia of Albany can potentially lead the team to another playoff berth. Rounding out the freshman class is OH Daisy Manoa of Concord -- a natural athlete who can play any position. 
DVC, 4-10 in conference last year and 9-14 overall last year, closed last season with a flourish. The No. 15 seeded Vikings upended No. 18 College of Sequoias in an play-in match in the playoffs. DVC next fell to No. 2 Foothill in a hard-fought three-set sweep. 
The Vikings' final push showed the power of the Big 8. 
"I've always told our student-athletes that we compete in the toughest conference in the North, and last year was a wonderful experience for our players to represent the Big 8 with pride," Ponciano-Babb said. 
The coach says the strength of the program stems from the players. 
"We will succeed based on our relentless pursuit on the ball, our purposeful play with the ball, and our competitiveness to finish each rally for the point," Ponciaco-Babb said. "My outlook for the season is to play consistently at a higher level than our opponents." 
Ponciano-Babb added that they have the personnel to improve from last season. 
"I'm looking for our players to play together and for each other, be great student-athletes and enjoy the experience," she said. "Remembering that we represent DVC and the Big 8 will give them enough motivation to fight for another playoff berth." 
The Vikings will host Solano and Ohlone on Sept. 9 in the DVC Classic.
-- Matt Schwab