SSU volleyball: With stakes high, Seawolves deliver victory


Another postseason bid is in the balance, and the Sonoma State volleyball team played with purpose in returning to the win column Friday.

More aggressive serving, closing out games — two keys to Sonoma State’s success — and a great defensive effort carried the Seawolves to a 25-18, 25-19 and 25-15 win over Cal Poly Pomona at home. The win ended a three match losing streak.

“I think this is the start of our roll,” said Madelyn Densberger, a hitter and digger out of St. Helena high.

With the second half of California Collegiate Athletic Association play beginning next week, a young Sonoma State squad wants to reclaim its place near the top of the league standings.

Tied for fifth entering Friday’s match, Sonoma State must play with the energy and mental toughness evident from the first point to the last against Cal Poly Pomona. In a conference with no easy matches, Sonoma State has work to do in securing a fifth consecutive NCAA Division II tournament berth.

“Our program has been very good and that’s what’s expected of us. That’s always been the goal, to win it all” said Ally Sather, a senior leader from Maria Carrillo high.

Pounding kills and staying in rallies to win points were strengths in Sonoma State’s win Friday. The Seawolves had a big advantage in winners, digs and blocks.

“I have to give credit to the Sonoma State defense and hitters,” said Pomona coach Rosie Wegrich. “We were low energy. You’ve got to be ready to play in this league.”

Offense has been a Sonoma State strength this season.

Returning All-American Sa-ther and All-Conference player Kelsey Hull with Caylie Seitz, another Maria Carrillo standout, again led the hitting. Densberger was next in the point scoring. A 10-point advantage in kills and 11 fewer hitting errors added up to an efficient night at the net.

“We have more offense than we’ve ever had. We’re starting to rein in our hitting errors,” said Sonoma State coach Bear Grassl.

What the Seawolves needed to improve was serving to put greater pressure on opponents and open up more scoring opportunities. Practice this past week paid dividends in Friday’s match.

Pomona’s receivers needed to adjust as Sonoma State pounded deep and hard serves early. Yet the Broncos never appeared comfortable handling the Seawolves pace on serves.

“We haven’t been putting enough pressure on our opponents from the service line,” Grassl said. “We can’t be throwing fastballs down the middle of the plate and be happy watching them get hammered out of the park.”

Strong serves set up a sturdy defense as opponents often can’t prepare well for hits. Leading the dig effort with Sonoma State keeping 12 more balls in play were Nicole Gragnola, the Seawolves defensive specialist, and Densberger, still adjusting to playing all over the court in her first season at Sonoma State.

“I work on it a lot. I’ve improved on keeping myself calmer,” Densberger said.

Sonoma State’s eight-block advantage was a team effort led by Densberger and Sather.

While the Seawolves were favored over Pomona, sweeping the three games, including a very strong final frame, could signal the young squad is gaining greater confidence. Mental toughness has been a challenge for Sonoma State, with half of the main rotation freshmen and sophomores.

“We’re deep, but we’re young,” Sather said. “We need to be more resilient. It’s up to us to come together and finish off matches.”

Controlling all three games, Sonoma State took both the first and second with the final four points in succession each game. The Seawolves won seven of the final nine points in the decisive third game.

Such hunger to close out contests will be critical in the second half of conference play and to prepare for a possible NCAA tournament appearance.

With conference teams beating up on each other, the CCAA may only get three teams into the west regionals. Four or five has been typical in past seasons.

“This year is a crazy year. Everybody’s pretty close to one another,” Grassl said. “Winning helps.”