EL DORADO — Host Union Mine and El Dorado took opposite sides for Thursday’s Sierra Valley Conference opener — three tightly contested sets won by the Lady Cougars 25-22, 25-23, 25-23.
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El Dorado’s victory was its third straight on the road after its appearance at the Carmichael Invite. In the process, the Cougars have earned a top-20 ranking.
“Our main goal tonight was to be consistent. When we gave up the ball we got it right back,” said El Dorado coach Shelley Bishop who took time to note Tuesday’s big turnout for the intra-county match. “We only rotated 1.5 times per set so we were getting strands of points.”
Union Mine, which enjoyed quick starts and mid-set leads, failed to fend off the on-coming Cougars, led by Kylie Haverson, Abby Bennett, Sabrina Tate, Joy Martin, Serena Franz, MacKenzie Niemann and others who displayed steely determination down the stretch.
“They (El Dorado) played really well. We fought hard but they fought harder,” Diamondback Brooke Howton said. “It came down to us making more errors than they did … thus giving up more points. They’re our rivals … we wanted to beat them but it was barely out of our reach.”
The Cougars covered the court well led by libero Piper Raleigh with assistance from Tate, Riley Weinhold, Haverson, Martin and Kristen Van Gilder.
“There’s five of us that’s played six years together so we know how we work on the court. Communication and talking a lot was key for us,” said Raleigh after her first varsity victory over Union Mine.
Like Raleigh, a junior, Tuesday’s win for many on El Dorado’s roster was their first ever against the varsity D’backs who relied on the hitting of Kylie Russell and Andrea Barnes, the blocking of Gabrielle Fredericks and the all-around play of Howton, McKaela Vonasek and Macallen Smith.
Fredericks’ back-to-back aces and Barnes’ kill held the lead for Union Mine in the opening set before the visitors mounted their comeback as Tate set up Haverson for a tip over the block and Van Gilder, as Fredericks had, landed consecutive aces.
The score stood at 16-all after Tate blocked a tap and the Cougars pushed ahead on Tate’s save for Julia Kirk’s redirected hit that surprised the hosts who began to fade. Trailing by six, Russell rallied the troops but a Tate-France set-up followed by Haverson’s spike off the D’back block sent the match to the second set.
Two points from Russell, one from Vonasek and the serving of Howton seized momentum for Union Mine and it looked like the D’backs’ set after Smith’s midrow freeball fell, Olivia Verbitsky stuck an ace and Vonasek’s backset for Howton’s kill forced Bishop and Co. to call for time.
But El Dorado slowly worked its way back and retied three times on Martin’s ace, Franz’ kill and Bennett’s cross-court kill. Fredericks and Bennett then traded off blocks and the action was tight to the end where Union Mine miscues decided it.
Barnes’ kill had the D’backs up 11-6 in the final set but the Cougars crept back. Weinhold’s ace and her sets for two Haverson kills had El Dorado up 21-20 and looking to sweep. Barnes retied but Martin went down the line, a Union Mine swing went out, Kirk’s smash was returned to the net and after a timeout, a D’back serve sailed long to give El Dorado the win.
“They played great and deserved it,” Union Mine coach Kasey Del Rio said. “It was our passing …. we struggled … and a few with missed serves.”
Note: The rematch Oct. 15 in the Cougars’ gym will be a Pink Ribbon Volley Fest to raise money for the Pink Ribbon Foundation, a scholarship fund put together by Judy Pickett. The foundation raises scholarship money for El Dorado High students directly affected or have family members affected by cancer. Donations will be accepted at the door. The event includes raffle prizes.