By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SONOMA — Firepower to burn and defense to dig deep in rallies make Sonoma Valley a prep volleyball force, as the Dragons demonstrated in taking the Sonoma County League tournament title Thursday.
In defeating Analy, the one SCL team to take a match from them this season, the Dragons overcame a shaky first game for the 3-1 win. Sonoma Valley yielded the lead on only four occasions in sweeping the final three games.
“We just minimized our errors. We kept the ball in play and put the ball in spots,” said Mackenzie Albrecht, a strong player across the floor for the Dragons. “We’re just firing on all cylinders.”
Winning the tournament title should bolster Sonoma Valley’s seeding when the North Coast Section sets the playoff field Sunday.
Analy also is headed to the playoffs. The Tigers survived a tough schedule and finished strong, including a win over Petaluma in the SCL tournament semifinal.
“We came in wanting it. Unfortunately, we let it slip away,” said Analy top hitter Maggie VanWeele.
Having split their league matches, the teams were prepared for a tough test on Sonoma’s home floor.
“Analy exposed our weak points first time around and we couldn’t adjust. Second time around we were more equipped and flexible,” said Sonoma Valley coach Mindy Orth-Neves. “This match is very important to us in regards to playoff momentum and credibility.”
While the Tigers knew they could play with the Dragons, the match reminded players of the mental toughness demanded in playoff volleyball.
“We need to make sure that we stay consistent and aggressive from the start to the finish of each set,” said Analy coach Holly Folendorf.
Analy was that team in the first set. Applying pressure with strong serves and solid sets, the Tigers took an early lead and withstood every Sonoma Valley run. VanWeele was flying to kills, often on assists from Abby Groth.
“We’re a great team and we have a lot of heart,” VanWeele said. “We got tired, honestly.”
Sonoma Valley was off its game early, much as in the early-season defeat to Analy. Then the Dragons cleaned up their play.
Albrecht showed why she was chosen the league most valuable player. She joined with Delaney Swanson to power Sonoma Valley’s hitting up front. On the back line, Albrecht added to her team-leading assist total. And she is second in blocks and digs.
Ace setter Gianna Monterosso was again the catalyst for Sonoma Valley’s deep and balanced offense.
“Gianna’s sets were really on the dot,” Albrecht said. “When I got the chance, I swung as hard as I could.”
After gaining an early lead in the second game, Sonoma Valley used a 12-5 run to take command.
The range of Sonoma Valley’s hitting options was clear in the third game. Hannah Herrick from the outside joined the graceful Albrecht and powerful Swanson to keep Analy on the defensive.
Depth was a big difference in the match. Analy’s errors increased as Sonoma Valley won more of the longer rallies.
While the Tigers clawed back from an early fourth-game deficit to take their first lead in two games, Analy couldn’t hold back the Dragons. Sonoma Valley answered with 7-0 run — the Dragons’ longest of the match — and won by that margin.
“We’ve definitely peaked in this postseason,” Albrecht said.