Win avenges last year’s loss
GARDEN VALLEY — With a trip to the Sac Joaquin Section Division IV volleyball finals on the line, the second-seeded Golden Sierra High Grizzlies hosted No. 3 Escalon Tuesday night in Rod Hedlund gym.
With vengeance in mind after losing to the Cougars in last year’s second round, Golden Sierra used its home court adantage to return the favor with a 25-15, 24-26, 25-16, 25-16 victory, setting up Thursday’s championship game against Ripon at the UC Davis Rec Hall.
The stands were packed as visiting Escalon stuffed the Grizzlies’ first attack, letting Golden Sierra know it came to play. Katie Christner answered with three kills for the lead and when Sierra Cokinos put a tip over the block followed by a Caitlin Hess ace, the Griz were up 5-1. The Cougars managed to tie on several Grizzly errors but the Griz stayed focused and built a 21-15 lead on two kills by Christner and several Cougar errors. Kills by Tiffany Grey and Hess had Golden Sierra at set point and Christner put it in the books with an attack out of the back row for the 1-0 lead.
The second set had a similar start as Escalon took the opening serve and ran a quick attack in the middle for the sideout. Again Christner answered, sandwiching two kills around a stuff block for the 3-1 lead. Escalon landed with a cross-court kill from Megan Cowan and benefited from multiple Grizzly errors to tie the score at 8-8 and later led 15-11 before Kaylee Schrader made a diving one-arm dig that caught the Cougars flat-footed.
The Griz battled from there on a cross-court kill by Cokinos and Christner’s ace, but when Alexis Hall’s soft roll shot found the net Grizzly coach Justin Cox called time. Golden Sierra hung in as Grey got a roll shot to fall, Christner finessed an overpass to the floor and followed with a kill, Jessica Condit dropped a free-ball kill and Schrader repeated her one-arm dig before three Grizzly errors let Escalon win to tie the match.
“We let off a bit after the first set and Escalon took advantage,” Cokinos said. “Everyone made an effort tonight — we played with so much heart and we never quit.”
Golden Sierra regrouped and opened the third set with a 4-0 run as Cokinos pushed a tip over the block and Christner got kills on a roll shot, a joust and a shot down the line. Grizzly errors allowed Escalon to stay close until Hess put a tip over the block and tooled the block on a quick attack. After Condit caught the Cougars napping with a second touch dump for a 13-6 lead, her ace made it 19-11 and Golden Sierra led 21-12 after the Cougars let Cokinos’ tip drop on the line. Hess put the Grizzlies up 2-1 when her tip went off the block.
“We came out strong in the third set,” Cox said. “They were attacking our outside line early. Britt (Brittany Tillotson) made an adjustment and we started defending better which allowed our offense to get going. We allowed Escalon to keep a lot of balls in play and we weren’t aggressive enough with our serves.”
Escalon started the fourth set with 3-0 lead on a kill to the back line, a roll shot and a Golden Sierra net violation before the Griz battled back and tied it at 5-all on a Grey-Cokinos block. The two squads traded sideouts until Christner’s ace put the Griz up 10-8. The Grizzlies were at match point when Grey got just enough on her next attack and the ball crawled over the net and dropped to the floor for the win.
“Last year we didn’t know how to handle or respond to the pressure. This year we didn’t doubt ourselves,” said Christner and Tillotson collectively.
Golden Sierra was led by Christner with another double-double with 21 kills, 23 digs, five blocks and an ace. Hess missed a double-double by one with nine kills, 11 digs, three blocks and two aces. Condit dished out 32 assists along with six kills and 10 digs; Sierra Cokinos finished with five kills and three solo blocks; and Tillotson ran the defense with 22 digs and 16 serve receptions.
Escalon was led by Cassidy Caton (eight kills) and Casey Schmidig (eight kills), Nicole Bianchi (37 digs), Shaylynn Beam (23 assists) and Morgan Jensen (two blocks).
“Golden Sierra had more heart tonight and wanted it more than us. My team played well, but their (Golden Sierra) experience helped. They played a solid game,” Escalon coach Teresa Williamson said.
The Grizzlies return the section title match Thursday for the first time since 2005 when they lost to Christian Brothers 3-0. Golden Sierra’s last D-IV championship was in 2004 against Loretto. This is the Grizzlies’ ninth trip and they’ll be playing for their fifth title.