By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Her team never trailed in any of its three sets Thursday night, but Anna Waller knows it can do better.
“We still have not hit our potential this season,” the Cardinal Newman volleyball coach said after the Cardinals had beaten Santa Rosa 25-14, 25-20, 25-16 at the old Ursuline gym.
The Newman girls did a lot of things right against the Panthers, including crisp passing and some majestic spikes by outside hitter Emily Papale. They were almost always in control, but seemed to lack the killer instinct that might have dispatched Santa Rosa, which is still looking for its first North Bay League victory.
The Cardinals went up 6-1 in the first set, only to see Santa Rosa cut it to 10-8. In the second set, a 22-15 lead became 23-19, making the home crowd a little nervous. In the third, Newman sprinted to a 12-1 advantage before the Panthers fought back to 16-10.
“It’s definitely a momentum game,” Waller said. “You’re up by a lot and then all of a sudden you let down a little bit, make a few errors, they get a couple kills, and all of a sudden now the game’s only a four-point game. We need to learn how to finish.”
That’s exactly what the Cardinals have been working on in practice. Waller invents pressure situations and asks her girls to respond.
So far, it hasn’t completely clicked. She’s hoping it does soon, because Cardinal Newman (2-2 NBL) faces the two tough new league foes next week — at Windsor on Tuesday, and home against Casa Grande on Thursday.
Those three teams, along with Montgomery, are all hoping to unseat defending champion Maria Carrillo this year.
Santa Rosa (0-4 NBL) isn’t in that class yet, but second-year coach Kaitlin Ferguson believes she can get the Panthers there.
They are a young team, with no seniors and a half-dozen freshmen and sophomores. Heck, even their coach is young; Ferguson is just 24.
She wants her players to adopt the same mentality her team had when she played at Montgomery (before going on to Santa Rosa JC) — that they’re supposed to win every time they step on the court.
Certainly, the Panthers have some talent. Tori Garzoli and Amanda Miller were strong on the front line against Cardinal Newman, especially on the defensive side.
Ferguson called it “technically our best game.”
“We lost the match, but I was definitely more pleased with our effort level and our intensity,” she said. “Because we kind of struggle a little bit with the mental-toughness aspect of the game, and we tend to go inside ourselves instead of looking to our teammates for support.”
Ferguson felt her players reversed the trend Thursday, communicating well and keeping one another’s spirits high against a good Newman team.
“Whether they were nervous or not, they did a good job hiding it,” Ferguson said.
Santa Rosa had no answer for Papale, though. A first-team All-Empire selection last year, the lanky senior dominated with 17 kills. Her height, leaping ability and technique make her a dangerous hitter from almost anywhere on the court.
“You see pictures of her, literally like her back is way back here,” Waller said, arching her spine to a near-painful extreme. “It’s amazing what her body does to get that speed on the ball.”
Junior Juli Buehner Kemper had five kills and a .375 hitting percentage for Cardinal Newman, sophomore Hannah Robles had 13 assists and senior Emily Bonfigli, daughter of athletic directory Jerry Bonfigli, added 12 assists. For Santa Rosa, Miller (6) and
Garzoli (5) teamed up for 11 kills, and Sabrina Skelly led with 15 assists.