THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Hungry for a section volleyball title after last season’s runner-up finish, Maria Carrillo looks ready for all challengers with Tuesday’s romp over formidable Casa Grande offering evidence of the Pumas’ strength.
The match between the North Bay League’s top two teams was rarely close. Maria Carrillo served and defended well, played fast on offense, and prevented Casa Grande from finding a rhythm in the 25-7, 25-9, 25-13 victory.
“We played really well. We all did our jobs,” said Calan Seitz, who led the Pumas with 11 kills.
Despite improving and playing more consistently since Casa Grande’s last loss to Maria Carrillo, the Gauchos were not satisfied with their effort Tuesday.
“It’s disappointing, but we’re motivated,” said leading hitter Ashley Harris. “That definitely was a wake-up call. We can use this as motivation to never feel like this again.”
Casa Grande is not alone. Opponents have few answers for a Maria Carrillo team returning a starting lineup from last season that includes three players who have started all four years with the program. A trio of juniors is in their third season as starters.
Maria Carrillo is favored to go undefeated in league play, including the NBL tournament. If they stay focused and practice hard, the Pumas could make another run to the North Coast Section Division 2 title game. Defending champion Redwood again is the region’s top team.
“We always talk about just being better than we were the day before,” said Maria Carrillo coach Jeff Nielson.
Serving was especially strong Tuesday. Leading the back line effort was Mikaela Francis with five aces. Francis helped set the tone serving as the Pumas reeled off the first dozen points of the match.
“We wanted to take control early,” Francis said. “We all just had a lot of energy. You could tell it was going to be a good night.”
Getting touches on Harris spikes to slow down balls and allow for digs helped Maria Carrillo turn back many Casa Grande scoring chances. Defensive specialist Cassie Blanchard recorded 15 digs on the night.
“They have a big offense. We had to make sure we were solid on defense,” said Pumas captain Ali Wiesner.
On the serving receiving end, Maria Carrillo was effective passing with pace to set up a balanced offense. Francis had 8 kills and Wiesner 6 to support Seitz at the net.
Maria Carrillo’s strong, steady overall play carried the Pumas through an equally impressive second game.
The third frame was the closest with Harris hitting a handful of winners and Courtney Debrunner passing well to keep Casa Grande in rallies.
“They’re both very smart, seasoned players,” said Casa Grande coach Jill Forni.
With their lead cut in half in the third game, the Pumas served with purpose, scoring six straight to stay in control and finish off the win.
That the Pumas are very good and getting better is a product of practices often more competitive than matches. With a roster deep in experience and skill, Maria Carrillo players push one another, the team’s ultimate goal being a section title.
“That’s definitely been our drive this year, not being second best,” Seitz said.
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or email@example.com.