By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
HEALDSBURG — Young and getting stronger, the Petaluma volleyball team is poised for a playoff run after coming back for a tough win over an improving Healdsburg team Tuesday.
The four-set victory kept Petaluma tied atop the Sonoma County League with Sonoma Valley, which won at Analy Tuesday. The leaders have a showdown in two weeks that could decide the league regular-season title. Then comes the SCL tournament, as a prelude to the North Coast Section playoffs.
“We want a league title for sure,” said Paula Clarey, one of the few seniors on the Petaluma team. “We’re a really young team. We’re just getting better as the season’s gone along.”
Also gaining confidence with each match is Healdsburg. In third place, the Greyhounds are aiming for the program’s best finish in years.
“We’ve become more scrappy,” said Emma Tynan, a team captain. “We’re not as big or strong as other teams so we have to do the little things.”
That the Greyhounds can compete with traditional league powers Petaluma, Sonoma Valley and Analy was evident in Tuesday’s opening game.
Healdsburg defended well in the middle and at the net, passed crisply, and closed out rallies for a 25-20 win in game one.
Lizzouli Vega played all over, handling returns, blocking kills, setting and striking spikes. Julia Somers hammered a handful of winners.
Twice in the game Petaluma battled back to tie. Healdsburg responded with solid play at the net and never fell behind.
Petaluma prevailed largely by adjusting better as Tuesday’s match continued and making fewer errors.
Finishing the second game on a 14-5 run for a 25-18 win, Petaluma found gaps in the Healdsburg defense and raised the tempo of play, contributing to poor Greyhounds shots and errant serves.
Leading the Trojans attack were Clarey and Katie Breuer, who each tied for the team high in kills with 11 for the match. Both also are Petaluma’s strongest servers.
A tight, tense third game went to Petaluma, 26-24. There were 11 ties and five lead changes.
Anchoring the Trojans’ defense and passing was Maddie Mehciz, who finished the match with eight digs and 30 assists.
“We just picked up our intensity,” Clarey said. “We had more offensive choices and could pass better.”
Serving well and getting high for spikes on the Healdsburg side was Bianca Nicastro, a slender middle hitter with a powerful swing. The close loss showed both the Greyhounds’ fight and room for improvement, she said.
“It takes hard work to win those. We need to be mentally strong,” Nicastro said.
A convincing game four win, 25-16, again had Petaluma winning rallies with determined play across the court, strong passing, and steady work at the net.
“They cover the court really well,” said Healdsburg coach John Kamra. “We knew we could play with them. We have a young team dedicated to getting better.”
Deep and powerful on offense, Petaluma is working on controlling games better.
“We’ve got good balance. We’re playing at a good pace,” said Petaluma coach Christen Hamilton.