Notre Dame-Belmont volleyball head coach Jen Agresti was careful to brag about his punching of Ciara Mangan and Gia Rivera after Aragon’s three-set sweep on Wednesday, feigning concern that if she did, the cat would be out of the bag for otherwise unsuspecting opponents.
With the sonic boom of Mangan and Rivera touching the ball, there’s no way NDB is keeping them under wraps for long.
Supported by the senior-freshman duo, the Tigers (2-0) earned a 25-19, 25-23, 25-23 non-league victory Wednesday night at Moore Pavilion. Rivera, the rookie, had a game-high 16 kills while Mangan, the senior, had 12 kills and four service aces.
“I have a double and I’m not complaining,” said Agresti. “I have my senior and my freshman. So that’s a great little combo there.
A good punch to NDB has always spelled disaster not just for the West Bay Athletic League, but for the State of California in general. The current tandem of Mangan and Rivera – after just two games played together – is already evoking memories of Tigers greats Tammy Byrne and Katie Smoot, who as juniors led NDB to the 2015 CIF Division IV state championship.
The 6-1 Rivera made a quick impression in the college volleyball ranks. Before Wednesday’s standout effort, the freshman opened the season with a 22-kill performance in last Thursday’s four-set victory over Carlmont. And she picked up where she left off in Game 1 against the Dons.
“It was quite difficult,” Aragon senior Jessica Castroviejo said of trying to catch Rivera’s power shots. “But I think we did really well. We have done our best.
Aragon (1-2) has certainly had a game as the team have shown they plan to fight in a Bay Division of the Peninsula Athletic League this season. As the perennial Central Coast Section playoff contender advanced to the CSC Division II Semifinals last season, the Dons settled for third place in PAL Bay behind second place Burlingame and undefeated first place Hillsdale, the eventual CIF Northern California Division I champions.
However, with Hillsdale and Burlingame graduating from their best players, Aragon – a team that hasn’t won a league title since their PAL Ocean Division championship in 2014 – are looking to make their mark.
“I don’t know who else has the horses to go,” Aragon head trainer Annette Gennaro-Trimble said. “I hope we are one of those best. I think we have a good chance of doing that.
After NDB dominated from the service line in the opener – Mangan and Rivera combined for five aces – Aragon made noise in each of the final two sets. The Dons led late in Game 2, 20-16, fueled by a dominating serve of their own, with second Sophie Rubinstein scoring three aces in the set. Then in Game 3, the Dons held 15-10, 16-11 and 17-13 leads before the Tigers came back strong.
The game’s pivotal moment came late in Game 2. With the score tied 22-22, and the shot from the Aragon line was announced by the sideline official, but Gennaro-Trimble had the same point of view as the official and saw it differently.
“I thought it was in there, but whatever, a call is a call and you have to learn to move on,” Gennaro-Trimble said.
The point tipped the set in favor of NDB. Then in Game 3, the battle up front came down to Aragon’s strength in the middle, against NDB’s booming pin hitters.
“We have good size and people with good verticals too,” Castroviejo said. “So I think if we keep practicing, working and focusing, watching the hitters, watching their hands, watching their shoulders, we’ll definitely improve as a blocking team.”
Castroviejo – who was the Dons’ setter last season – has moved to central block this season. The senior had nine kills and two blocks on Wednesday, including five kills in the final set. She capped off a long rally at the end of Game 3 with a perfect fade down the middle to put the Dons in front 21-20.
Then Rivera responded with a bit of thunder, cutting the block with a left-sided blast to level it 21-21. After Aragon missed his shot in the net to give NDB a 22-21 lead – the Dons committed 22 unforced errors in the game, including 10 in the final set – junior setter Jessica Ai served an ace, Rivera scored from the right side for strength match point, and Mangan finished the night with his 12th kill, a bolt to the left side.
“It’s our second game of the season, so we’re just trying to get through these tough times,” Agresti said. “And I think every time we go through a tough time because of being behind, that gives us more confidence for the season. … I don’t want to be down all the time, but if we’re down and we can fight back , it will be good for later in the season.