Players on the Calaveras and Bret Harte high school volleyball programs pushed themselves as far as they could during the 2019 season. Calaveras finished its year in the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, while Bret Harte, after winning an out-bracket game, lost in the opening round of the playoffs.
Calaveras and Bret Harte each got two players named to the first and second teams of the Mother Lode League. Calaveras had Jenna Brotherton and Keelie Koepp placed on the first team, while Kyllie Remus and Muriel Strange made the second team. For Bret Harte, Gabi Hutchens and Mikenna Grotto made the first team and Emma Lane and Katrina Swift made the second team.
For the second time in as many years, Brotherton made the first team. Brotherton, who is a three-year varsity starter, finished her junior season with 102 kills, 187 digs, 20 aces and six blocks. She recorded a season-high 18 kills in a four-set win over Bret Harte and had 10 or more kills four times. Brotherton had a serving percentage of 97.8 with just five serving errors in 225 attempts. But it was her ability to battle through injury that impressed her head coach.
“She started out the year hurting her ankle in our foundation game and then she hurt it again our first time playing over in Sonora,” Calaveras head coach Mike Koepp said. “So, she was always fighting to get back to full health. We nursed her back into shape with her ankle and offensively, she was a valuable option for us on the outside. Defensively, she was always scrappy and strong.”
Joining Brotherton on the first team is Calaveras senior Keelie Koepp. For the second straight year, Koepp was named a first-team libero. Keelie Koepp recorded 447 digs, had 464 serve receptions, served 51 aces and had nine assists. She had 59 digs in a 3-0 win over Summerville and was 24 for 26 serving with eight aces in a 3-0 win over Amador.
“She’s smart and she positions herself well,” Mike Koepp said. “She just has a good feel on the ball when she passes. She’s not the most swift-of-foot or most athletically gifted who is going to get to every ball, so she has to position herself well. Nine times out of 10 she was our best passer and she put herself in good positions and she’s confident with what she does.”
Hutchens and Grotto were Bret Harte’s first-team representatives. Hutchens, a four-year varsity player, finished her senior season with 107 kills, 221 digs, 19 aces and four blocks. She had a season-high 15 kills in a 3-0 win over Argonaut and had 10 or more digs 12 times.
“She’s meant a lot to the program,” Bret Harte first-year head coach Jacey Porovich said. “Rarely do we pull a kid all the way up and that’s where they play all four years. It’s a testament to her ability and knowledge of the game. Her presence on the court was huge and I think, for what I would consider an emotional junior class that we had, her presence was important to them. She’s a consistent presence on the court. She’s never going to be too angry or over-the-top ecstatic. She’s just someone you can rely on.”
Unlike Hutchens, Grotto has just one year of varsity experience under her belt, but looked right at home. The junior led Bret Harte with 148 kills and also had 29 blocks. Grotto had a season-high 14 kills in a 3-2 win over Summerville and managed 11 kills to help Bret Harte become the first Mother Lode League team to beat the Sonora Wildcats since 2014.
“A lot of what we did depended on where she was on the court,” Porovich said. “In some of the bigger games, we made sure she was up there to create the energy for us early on. There’s no doubt that when she pounded the ball, that gave us the energy that we needed all season.”
Calaveras’ second-team players were Remus and Strange. Remus, a junior, split time between being a hitter and a setter. She recorded 235 assists while collecting 133 kills. She also had 19 serving aces, 91 digs and five blocks. She recorded 10 or more assists 13 times, including 25 in a 3-2 loss to Sonora.
“At times, she could be our best offensive weapon,” Koepp said. “She was pretty consistent and at times, she was our best hitter and best setter. Overall, I think people recognize that she brought a lot of value to our team.”
Strange finished her senior year with 58 kills, 46 blocks, six digs and four assists. She had a season-high five kills in a 3-0 victory over Orestimba in the first round of the playoffs.
“Muriel is not flashy and is not going to jump off the page, but she’s just solid,” Koepp said. “You know what you are going to get out of her and it’s consistency. You are going to get those blocks from time to time, and you are going to get a good swing when we have an opportunity to run that middle. You just knew what you were going to get and you can’t say that a lot in high school sports.”
Strange was also the recipient of Calaveras’ Character Award. When asked why Strange deserved the award, Koepp said, “Muriel is the epitome of what a character is. She’s a quality individual, a great teammate, a worker and is someone who isn’t going to be a pain in the butt when it comes to disciplinary issues. She wants to work, even if she’s hurt a little bit. And you also don’t have to worry about her in the classroom. All those things add up to being what you want to see in an athlete in your program. Muriel will probably win this award in every sport she plays, because that’s just who she is.”
For Bret Harte, Swift and Lane were second-team players. Swift, a three-year varsity starter, finished the year with 270 assists, 21 aces, 77 digs and five kills. She recorded 37 assists in a 3-2 win over Sonora, but it was Swift’s metamorphosis into a team leader that stood out the most to Porovich.
“She was willing to put her own pride aside and do what was best for her teammates, and that is rare at the high school level,” Porovich said. “It was really cool to see her step into that role and see her truly understand what it means to be a leader.”
In her junior year, Lane had 104 kills, 91 digs, 24 blocks and 161 serves received, but it was what she did at the serving line that was most impressive. Lane recorded 63 aces and had a season-high 13 aces in a 3-0 win over Summerville.
“She was able to string three, four or five aces in a row, and that would be a huge momentum shift for us,” Porovich said. “If Emma is back there and she’s serving well, the rest of our game play seems to pick up a level.”
As for Bret Harte’s Character Award, that went to senior Eden Strauch, who had 61 kills, 12 blocks, 96 digs and nine aces.
“When we look at where she started this season, she started a little rough and wasn’t playing the best that we knew that she could,” Porovich said of Strauch. “I know she wasn’t happy about it, but that made her work even harder at practice. She never said a word and just continued to work hard, and it got to the point where she earned her spot on the floor. I can say that she finished the season playing the best volleyball that I had ever seen her play. When you look at character, you want someone who has that grit, hustle and heart, and Eden definitely encompasses that.”
Calaveras’ Koepp and Strange made the all-academic team, and Bret Harte’s Grotto, Hutchens, Strauch, Swift and Bianca Rael also earned academic honors.