SONORA – The Bret Harte High School volleyball team got to celebrate Thursday night. Why was this celebration significant? Since the Sonora Wildcats entered the Mother Lode League in 2014, they had been perfect in league play on their home floor.
Heading into Thursday’s game, not only was Sonora 35-0 at home against Mother Lode League teams, but Sonora had only lost one set in six years. In 106 home matches played, Sonora won 105 of them.
So, there’s no question why the Bullfrogs found it necessary to celebrate, right? The Bullfrogs became the first Mother Lode League team to hand the Wildcats a home loss and they did so in five sets (25-21, 16-25, 25-20, 22-25, 16-14) to stun the Sonora players, coaches and fans.
“This feels so good,” Bret Harte senior co-captain Gabi Hutchens said with a smile on her face. “It’s been my goal since freshman year and after putting in all the hard work to finally beat them feels great.”
Bret Harte’s first-year head coach Jacey Porovich knows how important Thursday’s win was, not just for the moment, but for the future of her team.
“Every win is huge and we’ve had our struggles,” Porovich said. “Tonight, was a huge moment for us to realize at what level we could compete and that we can push through. We’ve raised the bar on our level of play and hopefully we can continue to raise it from where we are now.”
When Bret Harte and Sonora faced earlier in the season, the Wildcats picked up a relatively easy three-set victory. Starting strong and not being intimidated was what gave Bret Harte the opening set. The Bullfrogs proved they were ready for battle as they took the first set 25-21.
“That was a huge moment for us because it’s never been done,” Hutchens said about winning the opening set. “We knew we had to go off that momentum and keep it up.”
Sonora didn’t back down after dropping the first set and the two teams traded points back-and-forth until the second set was tied 14-14. With the set even at 14, Sonora went on its biggest run of the night and outscored Bret Harte 7-0. Sonora appeared to have its confidence back and took the second set 25-16.
Even though Bret Harte lost the second set by nine, Hutchens believed that they weren’t changing their outlook on the evening.
“We were still really hyped up from that first match and knew we could do it,” Hutchens said. “Nothing was really different, we just made a few mistakes, so we knew we could do it and we just had to pick it up for the next set.”
Bret Harte began the third set with blocks from junior Jaden Arias and Mikenna Grotto, but it was Hutchens who began to find her groove. After Sonora hit two consecutive balls into the net, Hutchens recorded back-to-back kills to give Bret Harte a 7-4 lead. She later gave the Bullfrogs a point with a gentle tip over the net and senior Katrina Swift followed with an ace and a kill of her own and Bret Harte led 11-6.
Sonora cut the deficit to 14-10, but Grotto and junior Emma Lane added kills and Bianca Rael recorded an ace. After a Wildcat hit went out of bounds, Arias capped the 5-0 run with a kill. The Bullfrogs got their lead to as high as 23-16 following a kill from Lane, but Sonora battled back. Soon, that lead dwindled to 23-19. Hutchens stopped the bleeding with a kill and the Bullfrogs were able to hold on for a 25-20 win and went back ahead 2-1.
With Sonora’s back against the wall, Bret Harte had a chance to finish the night in four sets. Lane, Hutchens, Grotto and junior Hailey Callahan recorded points for the Bullfrogs early in the fourth set, however, Sonora was able to get some separation late and built a 24-19 lead. After a Wildcat hit soared out of bounds, Lane and Arias recorded a combo block and another Wildcat shot went out of bounds and Bret Harte trailed 24-22. But, that was as close as the Bullfrogs got and Sonora tied the match at 2-2 with a 25-22 fourth set victory.
“I was feeling confident,” Porovich said about heading into the fifth and final set. “The way we played tonight was what I’ve been looking for all season. I was confident that we weren’t going to go down without a fight. I think we’ve been in more five-set matches than they have and there’s a little bit of a different dynamic in that last set, because it is such a short set. But, we’ve truly been working at practice about minimizing our mistakes and playing from behind.”
Bret Harte trailed the early portion of the first-to-15, fifth set and eventually trailed 8-5. The Bullfrogs went on a 4-0 run and got two kills from Grotto to go ahead 9-8. Grotto and Callahan added to Bret Harte’s run to 15 points, but Sonora had good luck on its side and was within one point of winning it all.
“All I could think about was not letting the ball touch the floor,” Hutchens said about being down to the final point. “We all knew that we had to work together to get that ball over the net.”
Trailing 14-12, Bret Harte got one point back. Then, Arias recorded a block to tie things at 14-14. Then Bret Harte took the lead and all of a sudden, it was the Bullfrogs were just one point away from victory. A hit from Bret Harte senior Eden Strauch went over to the Sonora side of the net and wasn’t returned. The ball hit the Bud Castle Gym floor and the Bullfrogs began to celebrate.
“It was a total team effort,” Porovich said. “Volleyball is a team sport and it takes every single one of them and tonight, I can truly say that every player on that court stepped up and did what we needed them to do. They trusted my decisions and they trusted each other on the court to do their jobs.”
Senior Liberty Garcia was 14 for 16 serving with one ace, had 10 serves received, had six digs and two assists; Swift was a perfect 14 for 14 serving with one ace, had one kill, was 122 for 126 passing with 37 assists and four digs; Callahan had four blocks and two kills; Lane was 14 for 18 serving with four aces, had 12 kills, 21 serves received, six blocks and seven digs; Hutchens was 7 for 7 serving, was 43 for 45 in attacks with 12 kills; had 16 serves received and nine digs; Arias was 13 for 14 in attacks with four kills and three blocks; Strauch was 16 for 16 serving with one kill, had 18 serves received and 12 digs; Grotto had 11 kills; and Rael was 24 for 25 serving with three aces, had one kill, had nine serves received, one block and six digs.
Because of Bret Harte’s win, Sonora falls into a tie for first place with Calaveras. Bret Harte (5-4 MLL) trails Sonora and Calaveras in the standings, but is tied with Summerville. Bret Harte still has one more match with Summerville and Sonora, as well as two with Calaveras. The Bullfrogs will try to keep their momentum going and win their fourth in a row as they take on Calaveras at 6 p.m., Tuesday in San Andreas.
“If you follow the Mother Lode League, you’ll see that it’s all over the place and anything can happen on any given night,” Porovich said. “But, we raised our level of play tonight and I’m hopeful and confident that we’ve realized what we are capable of and that’s where it’s going to be moving forward.”