SONORA – It’s no surprise that the two titans of the Mother Lode League went five sets with the winner holding onto sole possession of first place. It was, however, surprising that after taking the first two sets, the Calaveras High School volleyball team didn’t walk off the floor victorious.
In what is perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of the season, Calaveras squandered a 2-0 lead over the Sonora Wildcats and lost in five sets (25-15, 34-32, 23-25, 22-25, 12-15) and most likely lost its chance to dethrone the Wildcats from the top of the league standings.
After the final point was made, many of the Calaveras players had trouble holding back their tears. Calaveras led in all five sets, including an 8-3 lead in the fifth and final set.
“This is devastating,” Calaveras junior Ava Saiers said. “We worked so hard, especially in the second set, and to let it all go is just disappointing.”
After taking the first two sets of the night, Calaveras looked unstoppable. But Sonora has won 12 straight league titles (including both Mother Lode League and the Valley Oak League) and knows what it takes to win big games.
“We were us in the first two sets and we did what we were supposed to do,” Calaveras head coach Mike Koepp said. “We ran our offense and we passed the ball and I feel like we did a lot of those things in the last three sets, too. We just made mistakes at the wrong times. I think we had some bummer calls, but we couldn't quiet the momentum.”
Calaveras made a powerful statement in the first set. With the game tied 11-11, Calaveras went on a 7-0 run and along with kills from sophomore Karah Auld and junior Kyllie Remus, was able to capitalize on Sonora mistakes. Senior co-captain Keelie Koepp recorded two serving aces, with the second giving Calaveras the 25-15 first-set victory.
The second set of the night showed that neither team wanted to lose. With a combined 66 points scored in the second set, at no point did either squad lead the other by more than four. Calaveras reached 24 points first and from that moment, a combined 10 times a team was looking at the winning point. It wasn’t until Calaveras led 33-32 was clinching the game-point finally accomplished and Calaveras took the second set 34-32.
With a 2-0 lead, Calaveras was looking for the knockout blow. Unfortunately for the visitors, that blow never came. Calaveras continued to play strong volleyball and built an 18-11 lead. But Sonora gained momentum and cut that lead to 18-16. Senior Anna Allain, junior Alyssa Wyllie and Remus recorded consecutive kills to give Calaveras some breathing room. Yet, the Wildcats stormed back and outscored Calaveras 7-1 for the 25-23 win.
“We started to divide after the second set and that tore us apart,” Saiers said.
With Sonora picking up a win, the game went to the fourth set. Calaveras again found itself leading late in the set after Wyllie recorded a kill and an ace to give her team a 21-20 lead. However, the knockout blow didn’t come from Calaveras and Sonora ended the set on a 5-1 run to tie everything up at 2-2.
“I felt like we were OK, but I also felt some tense moments between other people, so I think that because some people were tense, that affected everyone,” Calaveras senior Muriel Strange said about heading into the fifth set.
Calaveras began the final set with kills from Strange and Saiers and then Saiers added an ace. Later in the set, Remus and junior Jenna Brotherton recorded back-to-back points for their squad and Calaveras led 8-3. Trailing by three, Sonora went on a 6-0 run to take a 9-8 lead.
Calaveras was able to tie the set, but couldn't take the lead for the rest of the night and dropped the final set 15-12.
“I think we divided a little bit and we were getting frustrated with each other,” Koepp said. “We executed, but when it came down to it, Sonora just played harder than we did.”
Saiers finished the night with 11 kills, 33 assists, 26 digs and was 20 for 20 serving; Auld had 15 kills and three blocks; Koepp had 36 serves received, 44 digs and two aces; Remus had 25 assists, was 16 for 16 serving and had 11 kills; Brotherton had 14 kills, 27 serves received and 20 digs; Wyllie had seven kills; and Ashlyn Brim had 20 serve receptions and 13 digs.
“This is the atmosphere that you wanna play volleyball in,” Mike Koepp said. “It’s just a lot of fun, but it’s a bummer when you come out on the wrong end of it.”
Life doesn’t get any easier for Calaveras. On Thursday, Calaveras heads to Tuolumne to take on the Summerville Bears, who have one victory over Calaveras already and nearly made it two, had it not been for a 3-2 come from behind victory by Calaveras over the Bears in San Andreas.
“Yeah, absolutely I’m worried about Thursday,” Mike Koepp said. “It’s tough to travel to Summerville and it’s a tough game to be a part of. We need to bring it on Thursday night or it doesn’t matter how many people help us down the road. We just need to play it out, see what happens and do our best.”
On Monday night, Calaveras beat Amador in three sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-11) in San Andreas. Keelie Koepp was 24 for 26 serving with eight aces, had 15 serve receptions and 18 digs; Saiers was 15 for 15 serving with six aces, had 16 assists and eight kills; Brotherton had nine kills and 15 digs; Remus had 14 assists; and Samantha Gleason was 8 for 8 serving in the win.