When the ball hit the ground on the Sonora side of the court in the deciding third set of the Sac-Joaquin Division 4 Volleyball Championship game, the celebration was on.
Leaping with joy, the Lady Cougar players on the field Saturday afternoon, November 6 at Ripon High School were soon mobbed by their teammates, joined by their coaches and cheered on by a large group of Escalon faithful in the stands. .
It was a back-to-back run for the sectional title for girls’ varsity volleyball; they won the blue banner in 2019 and it was their first chance to defend it, having no playoffs in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Escalon swept Sonora from Ripon Gym, 25-14, 25-22 and 25-10, in this year’s final.
The 2019 team was the first to win a section volleyball championship; now Escalon is a two-time Blue Banner winner.
“It’s amazing, especially having my two captains, they’re the only ones on this team with that experience, and I felt like they were leading this team offensively, defensively and mentally,” said the head coach Teresa Williamson, pointing to leadership. of senior Mandy Murphy and junior Emily Vickers as crucial during the regular season and playoffs.
They were part of the 2019 Section Championship team, Murphy as a sophomore and Vickers as a freshman.
This year’s championship game took place at Ripon High School, scene of the 2019 Division victory for the Lady Cougars, and a ground they know well, having fought Ripon several times in the game of the Trans- Valley League.
Escalon was undefeated in TVL action this year, winning the league championship with a 10-0 record. They continued their solid run in the D4 playoffs, first with a 3-0 first-round win over No. 16 Marysville on October 26. They followed that up with a 3-0 win over No. 8 Dixon on Oct. 28, then beat fourth seed Western Sierra Collegiate Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 2 by a 25-11, 25-10, 25-11 finish. This put them back in the championship game on November 6.
Sonora, the No. 2 seed, handled business on her support side with wins over No. 15 Venture Academy, 3-0; No. 10 Liberty Ranch, 3-0; and a 3-0 semi-final win over No. 3 Ripon.
Introducing the teams on Saturday, the AP announcer noted that 170 teams started play at the start of the season in the division; Sonora and Escalon were the only two remaining. Sonora had gone 22-1 heading into the championship round on Saturday; Escalon came in at 28-2.
Both qualified to move on to the NorCals regardless of Saturday’s result.
Junior Rylie Lattig started the first set with a solid serve, Escalon rolling to a 6-0 advantage before Sonora could get a point. The 9-3, 14-6 lead was appreciated by the Lady Cougars as they remained focused on the field and never let Sonora get much of a run. A well-timed block from Bella Cormack took the match to a 23-12 advantage over Escalon and from there a few points were traded before Escalon took the 25-14 victory in the opening set.
After trading points to start the second set, Sonora put in a strong serve run, leading 6-1 before Williamson called for a timeout.
“We talked about them kind of stepping back, playing at a level we’ve played at and not at the level we’ve seen,” Williamson said of the advice she gave her team during of the caucus. “We can’t play at this level, we have to constantly play at our level; they stepped up and played a solid game.
Although Sonora, still serving, got the next point to go up 7-1, it was another block from Cormack that brought the ball back to the Escalon side with the Lady Cougars at 2-7.
But from there they chipped away, closing in at 7-9 before another Sonora serve.
A kill from Leah Wheeler and strong serves from Emily Middleton got the Escalon girls back in the fight against the Lady Wildcats, forcing a timeout from Sonora when they came within 11-13. Middleton continued to serve and her teammates’ points saw Escalon break through, eventually taking the lead at 14-13. The teams then battled it out, traded points and some massive wins from Mandy Murphy along with some well placed tricks on the net from Valeria Gonzalez and Carsyn Hood paved the way for Escalon to a 24-22 lead. Murphy would score the final point on a kill to give Escalon the 25-22 win in the second set to go 2-0 up in the game.
Sonora – who had reached the final without dropping a set in the playoffs – struggled to regroup after losing the first two to Escalon and could never really get on track in the third and final set.
The Escalon players on the pitch, their teammates standing pitchside and the fans in the stands could feel how close the title was and every point was cause for celebration. Sonora worked hard to try to come back, going 14-8 at one point, but the Lady Cougars would not be denied. They went on a 19-9 24-9 point streak before Sonora earned their final point of the night at 24-10.
Vickers put the exclamation mark on the victory, on a ball that Sonora could not return, and the section title went to Escalon.
Williamson admitted she didn’t come thinking.
“No, I really thought it would go to five,” she said of anticipating a marathon game with the Lady Wildcats, though doing it in three was fine with her.
The stat leaders in the section final were Emily Vickers with three aces, nine kills and 10 digs; Mandy Murphy with 10 wins; Rylie Lattig with 20 assists; Bella Cormack with seven blocks; Grace Ferreira with 14 digs.
Assisting Williamson on the bench for the playoffs was his college assistant coach Stephanie Ceja; JV coach Krystal Rodriguez; and first-year coach Shaylynn Beam.