Anderson Valley’s long-awaited volleyball title

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For Anderson Valley volleyball coach Mike McDonald, the 27-year wait ended Saturday night as one of his teams finally presented him with a North Coast Section title.

McDonald has been in charge of the volleyball program at the Boonville school since 1983 and while his teams have made it to the NCS many times, Saturday night was the first time he walked up after the final match to receive a championship banner.

Anderson Valley, the top seed in Division VI, took care of No. 2 Pacific Union Prep in straight sets. The scores were 25-16, 25-18 and 25-16.

“It’s a relief,” McDonald said on Sunday. “I’ve dreamed about it a lot and now after all these years, it’s finally happened.”

One other Empire team, St. Helena, made it to the NCS finals. The No. 7 seeded Saints lost in four sets to Division IV No. 1 seed Marin Catholic.
Remarkably, the modern-day Anderson Valley High School went some 55 years without winning an NCS title in any sport. Now, in a seven-day span, the Panthers have won two. On Nov. 13, the school’s boys soccer team captured the Division III championship.

“What are the odds of a school going so long without winning NCS and then getting two titles in a week?” McDonald asked.

Another remarkable statistic is that Anderson Valley played the entire regular season with only six players. Had a girl gotten injured, the Panthers would’ve had to play short. In the playoffs, McDonald brought up a couple of girls from the junior varsity team.

“It was a good thing because in the championship game, Mirla Gaxiola ran into a teammate and almost knocked herself out,” McDonald said. “She had to come out for a few points, but couldn’t wait to get back on the court.”

Anderson Valley, with its core players, captured the North Central League II North en route to its 24-8 final record. After receiving a first-round bye, the Panthers had to win three straight.

“Going all season using the same six players was a challenge for me and the girls,” McDonald said. “It’s like the Giants winning the World Series with only a nine-player roster. You figure that someone might get injured, have a family commitment or something else that would cause them to miss a game.

“We were able to navigate the season and that in itself is an accomplishment.”

On Saturday night, all six Panthers played their role to perfection. Rennie Wallo, at 5-foot 8 their tallest player, had eight kills. Deysi Mendoza, the only senior, had seven. She’s 5-foot 5.

Setter Kristen Andersen, who fought the flu bug all week, dished out 24 assists.

‘I don’t care how I feel,” Ander-sen told her coach. “You’re not going to get me out of this game. We’ve waited so long for this chance.”

Back row specialist, Karina Perez, kept the taller Pacific Union front line from getting points with dig-after-dig.

Right outside hitter Gimmena Manriquez contributed six kills and played terrific defense.

“Our signature skill is defense because we’re not tall,” McDonald said.

“Pacific Union had a 6-1 player (Jenna Glanz) and we were able to get a lot of her swings back across the net. Eventually, we got her out of her comfort zone.”

St. Helena advanced to the finals by defeating the No. 2 seed Berean Christian in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Salesian in the semis.

The Saints lost to Marin Catholic, 25-20, 25-19, 19-25 and 25-18.

In her final volleyball game for St. Helena, Maddy Densberger had huge numbers once more. The 5-foot-10 outsider hitter had 21 kills, three blocks, four aces and three digs.

She had 486 kills in her senior year.

Shelby Zumwalt had 26 assists and six digs while Callie Flood contributed eight kills and 11 digs.

“We played them close and we played well,” St. Helena coach Benny Rabanal said. “They came out of the Marin County League and that’s a tough conference.

“Their net defense was better and they had a girl (Shauna Klein) that had the ability to place the ball in any location she wanted.”

The Kentfield school finished 28-13.

It was the second time in school history St. Helena had reached the NCS finals. The Saints also settled for second the first time. Rabanal has been part of the program for 23 years and became head coach in 1999.