Freshmen stars shining bright on varsity


Thomas Tsuchimoto

Freshman Matthew Alm, second from left, keeps up with the pack during the 1600-meter race for Cal’s track team. Alm also competes in he 3200m and 800m races, and ran varsity cross country for the Grizzlies in the fall.

From the bright green softball and baseball diamonds to the hardwood of the volleyball court to the soft rubbery track, freshmen at Cal High have made their mark on varsity athletic teams this season.

Whether its Payton Lee helping Cal reach the CIF State volleyball tourament or Matthew Alm and Madison Chavez pulling double duty running varsity for the track and cross country teams, many freshmen have proven that age doesn’t matter if you have enough talent to shine bright.

Freshman Lisette Green is already standing out on a team that isn’t accustomed to featuring freshmen.

Green is the only freshman on the Cal varsity softball team.  It’s very uncommon for coach Tony Bari to put a freshman on varsity unless she will be a starting player. 

Bari believes it’s much better for a player to grow and develop on JV than it is to sit on the bench on varsity. But the situation with Green is different. 

“One of our two excellent catchers from last year’s team decided not to return to focus on other sports,” Bari said. “Since we absolutely must have two catchers, this created a great opportunity for Green.

“I saw her focus, passion, and she demonstrated she can hit varsity level-pitching,” Bari continued. “When I saw her focus and passion, I felt she was mentally ready to be challenged at the higher varsity level.” 

Green will be working closely with Alyssa Troiani, who is the team’s senior catcher and a four-year varsity starter. 

“My greatest accomplishment would be making varsity because it’s a privilege to be accepted on a team with so many skilled players,” said Green, who sees this as the natural next step in her playing career. “My goal is to continue playing in college but I know I still have work ahead.”

Green was introduced to softball in third grade, and ever since, her passion for the game has blossomed.

She started by playing for the San Ramon Valley Girls Athletic League, where she learned to play against harder teams.

Green then joined the Stompers, whose coach Steve Simi describes her as a dedicated, hardworking, and highly competitive player. 

“I think that’s how she is as a person but funnier,” Simi said. “I think Lisette has the natural ability along with her tremendous work ethic, to play at the college level.” 

Green’s new coach, Bari, is excited to work with his talented and committed team and he believes they have the potential to win both EBAL and NCS. 

“The expectations I have for Lisette are exactly the same as those that I have for all of my players every year,” said Bari. 

While Green is on the path to becoming a star player, Payton Lee has already established herself as one.

Lee served up some action this past volleyball season, helping lead the varsity team to a 28-5 record and the NCS semifinals. Cal advanced to the CIF state tournament and reached the second round of NorCals before getting eliminated. 

Despite this being Lee’s first year on the team, she played an integral role.

A 5-foot-8 setter, Lee’s position is the equivalent of a quarterback for a football team. She serves the first ball of every other set. Every serve has potential to be a point and can even affect her teammates’ morale because it’s important to start each rally with an excellent serve, otherwise victory could be hard to achieve. 

Lee is trusted with this responsibility because of her playing capabilities. She played 91 sets last season and made 15 kills. Lee also made 233 digs and 934 assists, leading EBAL in the latter.

Despite her gifted talents, Lee doesn’t let her achievements get to her head. She didn’t see herself as the sole star of the volleyball team, but as part of a team that had the strength and ambition to work endlessly for victory.

“I’m really happy to be helping the team and contributing to its success,” Lee said. 

Starting at an early age, Lee was encouraged to play volleyball by her parents. Ever since practicing with them, volleyball has become Lee’s passion, inspiring her to practice frequently and seek a team that could support her. 

“It’s like a family,” Lee said. “Everyone gets along and we care about each other.”

Lee’s teammates said she was the leader that the varsity team needed this season.

“She’s really hard working,” senior Claire Paraiso said. “She has high expectations but she always manages to exceed them. If she makes a mistake, she’ll fix it by the next point.”

Lee’s not only known for her playing skills, but also for her leadership and personality. 

“She’s very mature for her age,” senior Jessica Merchant said. “I don’t think of her as a freshman.”

While Lee was the lone freshman on her team, multiple newscomers in the baseball program have reached the varsity level already.

A trio of freshmen have come out the gates swinging for Cal baseball as the spring season is underway.

Catcher Zach Robman, pitcher/first baseman Nic Bronzini, and outfielder Raoul Fabian burst onto the scene last month, proving they’re able to keep up with the upperclassmen at ease.

Despite it being rare even for an underclassmen to play on varsity, these three freshmen have shown they have what it takes, which should help create some excitement for the Grizzlies’ fans to watch this year and down the road.

“I never thought I would be a freshman on varsity because of the Cal High history with freshmen being on varsity,” Robman 

and I knew that I had to work hard for it to be reality.”

Along with the challenges of increased speed of the game comes pressure to fit in with the older guys, but Bronzini and the others felt the transition was smooth as could be.

“For me I feel like it hasn’t really had to be an adjustment,” Bronzini said. “I feel like I was accepted right from the beginning.”

All three players are excited for the challenges of EBAL competition they’ll see this year and have high hopes for the season.

Robman not only wants to consistently compete for an NCS title, but he also has high aspirations for himself as well.

“I want to help our program not just this year but for years to come and be a leader for us in those years,” Robman said.

Fabian and Bronzini both look to make a similar impact, creating a winning environment in the Grizzly baseball program.

While the baseball team slugs their way through the season, a couple freshmen on track look to make an impression.

This is both Madison Chavez’s and Matthew Alm’s first year running track.

Chavez and Alm run the 1600-meter, 3200m, and sometimes 800m distance events.

Chavez’s love for running has stemmed from a young age. 

“I have been running my whole life because my parents are runners,” Chavez said. “I love running.”

Chavez  is new to track, but her biggest accomplishment from cross country in the fall when she was the only girl from Cal to qualify for the CIF State meet. 

Her goals are just as lofty for this season.

“My goals for track are to qualify for NCS and Arcadia Invitational,” Chavez said.

Alm managed to make the varsity cross country team and stayed competitive with the six fastest senior boys. Even as the only freshman competing against upperclassmen, Alm said he wasn’t intimidated.

“At first it kind of was, but now I’ve grown into it and I’ve gained a sense of camaraderie with my teammates,” Alm said.

Long distance track coach Efferem Poynter is excited to see Chavez  and Alm go toe-to-toe against some of the top runners in Northern California. 

“It’s fun to watch her battle with another male runner on the team who is about the same level as her,” Poynter said. “Whenever they are paired up at practice, he is challenged to try to keep up with her.”

Poynter said Chavez has a very strong work ethic who is always ready for a challenge.

“She is blessed with this gift, which results in the team getting better,” Poynter said. “I can see her turning into a future leader on this team as a junior and senior.”

This statement probably rings true for all of the freshmen athletes who are already making an impact at the varsity level.

Staff Writer Izzy Belof contributed to this story.