By PETER FOURNIER
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
SONOMA — There isn’t much room for a girls high school volleyball playoff match to be any closer than Sonoma Valley’s five-set defeat to Novato was on Saturday. The Dragons lost a North Coast Section Division 3 heartbreaker to the Marin County Athletic League power, 25-11, 21-25, 18-25, 25-20, 16-14.
The Dragons fought back from a three-point deficit in the tiebreaker to tie at 12-12. They they shook off two match points to tie it at 14, meaning the final margin would have to be two points.
Sonoma’s season came to a close when Novato’s Jackie Gocobachi smashed a kill and Teya Neff’s serve wasn’t returned by the Dragons.
“I just needed my hitters to execute,” Sonoma coach Mindy Neves said. “Our defense was really good all night. In the fourth game it faltered a little, but we brought it back halfway through the fifth game.”
The Hornets ran away with the first game and seemed poised to do the same with the second.
They led 21-16 when Anastasia Claros turned the tide. With the sophomore Claros serving, the Dragons went on an 8-0 run, then won the game.
“Anastasia has taken every opportunity that she could this season to push herself and her team,” Neves said. “She was on the freshman team last year and came back and there was no question that she was going to be much better this year. She’s fighting, no question.”
Claros said she was always thinking about her next chance to serve on her hot run.
“I just kind of visualized me acing the next player and getting the serve in,” she said.
The Dragons won the third set but dropped the fourth, setting up the thrilling tiebreaker.
Though Sonoma didn’t advance, Claros said the team “still won on the court.”
“We worked so hard,” she said. “We should have had that game. We just didn’t play to our full potential but it was a good match and it was really close.”
Claros led Sonoma with 14 digs. Mackenzie Albrecht had 19 kills and Delaney Swanson 15. Gianna Monterosso had 40 assists.
Novato coach Mu Chang said this victory ranked among one of the best in her third year coaching the team, but that it didn’t come easily.
“Sonoma did a very nice job,” Chang said. “Mindy is a very good coach. It’s a solid squad.”
Hornets outside hitter Annalise Dowd finished with 13 kills, including three in the tiebreaker.
“We had moments where everybody was just playing so hard and I think that’s just what it was,” Dowd said.
Novato has eight players that are 5-foot-10 or taller, but Neves didn’t think that the height differential was an issue.
“No. I don’t think their height had anything to do with their win, at all,” she said.
Neves will only lose two seniors next year and said she foresees the team being strong. Claros is also already looking ahead.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to NCS and trying to get farther than we did today,” she said.
SATURDAY’S NCS QUARTERFINALS
Las Lomas d. Casa Grande, 23-25, 25-22, 25-16, 25-6
Maria Carrillo d. Carondelet, 25-20, 25-7, 25-15
Novato d. Sonoma Valley, 25-11, 21-25, 18-25, 25-20, 16-14
Bishop O’Dowd d. Analy, 3 games to 0
Albany d. Petaluma, 23-25, 25-15, 25-19, 25-14
Healdsburg d. Moreau Catholic, 28-26, 25-23, 25-20
Cardinal Newman d. St. Helena, 25-20, 25-21, 25-12
Anderson Valley d. Ferndale, 25-9, 25-9, 18-25, 25-13
South Fork d. Mendocino, 13-25, 25-19, 25-17, 24-26, 15-9
RVC d. Fremont Christian, 25-21, 25-17, 25-12