ESCALON – Sometimes in a loss, it’s best to just tip your cap and accept the result. With a trip to the section championship on the line, there was one team who was obviously the better squad on the floor and it wasn’t the Calaveras High School volleyball team.
In the semifinals of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV volleyball playoffs, No. 3 Calaveras lost to No. 2 Escalon in a three-set sweep (17-25, 21-25, 25-27) Tuesday night in Escalon.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Calaveras head coach Mike Koepp said following the loss. “We didn’t put any pressure on them offensively and the better team won tonight. They played better than us, they played harder than us and they were scrappier defensively. I’m not saying that we couldn’t compete with them, we just didn’t in those first two games like we could have.”
Calaveras, who had only lost one match since Sept. 12, seemed to be a step behind Escalon. Everything that Calaveras did, Escalon had an answer for, both offensively and defensively.
“Escalon definitely has a lot more offensive weapons than we do and they were putting the ball away in situations that they needed to and we weren’t doing the same thing,” senior libero Keelie Koepp said.
One issue that plagued Calaveras all night was the inability to go on any sort of sustained run. The biggest run Calaveras went on was 5-0, which came late in the third set.
“It was frustrating because things would start clicking and then the mojo would die,” Keelie Koepp said. “We needed to pick it up and with our group, sometimes it’s hard to do that.”
Calaveras found itself trailing early and was unable to dig itself out of the hole. Escalon jumped out to a 9-3 first-set lead and never looked back. After a kill from senior Muriel Strange, Calaveras trailed 13-11, but that’s as close as it would get the rest of the set. Escalon easily took the opening set 25-17, which came as a shock to Keelie Koepp.
“We came into the game knowing that they were talking a lot and thinking that they were just going to roll over us, so when they came out and beat us like they did in the first game, it was, wow, we need to pick it up,” she said.
Unlike the first set, Calaveras began the second set with some momentum and built an early 7-4 lead. However, the Cougars responded with a 7-0 run to go ahead and never trailed again. After a kill from junior Kyllie Remus, back-to-back aces from junior Ava Saiers and a hit out of bounds, Calaveras cut the Escalon lead to 16-14. But again, that was as close as they got and dropped the second set 25-21.
Calaveras put up its best fight in the third and final set. Trailing 20-15, Calaveras got a point with an Escalon hit out of bounds and then sophomore Karah Auld recorded back-to-back blocks. Another Escalon hit soared out of bounds and junior LoLo Wyllie served up an ace to tie the set at 20-20.
“We could have folded our tents and gone home and we didn’t,” Mike Koepp said. “We competed and that’s what you have to do at this stage. You are not going to see cupcakes. I was happy with the result of that last game, regardless of win or lose.”
The Cougars went back ahead 23-20, but a kill and ace from Saiers and an Escalon mistake once again tied things at 23-23. The set remained close, but Escalon had more firepower than Calaveras and won 27-25.
“I’m upset because I believe that if we had made it to the finals that we would have taken the whole thing,” Keelie Koepp said. “This, to me, was more like a championship game than the next game would have been.”
While Calaveras’ section title dreams are over, the season will continue. Because it made it to the semifinal game, Calaveras qualified for the CIF State Tournament. The brackets will be released Sunday night and the first game will be played Tuesday, Nov. 12. Calaveras, most likely, will have a road game.
Even with Tuesday’s loss, Mike Koepp doesn’t feel his team will let that take away their excitement to play in the state tournament.
“We’ve earned that opportunity,” he said. “I liken it to what happened with us and the Sonora loss. Going forward, we could have been upset that we weren’t league champions, but we came back and beat Summerville two days later in a quality match. I don’t believe the girls that we have are the type where they aren’t going to compete.”