By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After a tough first two rounds that saw most Redwood Empire high schools eliminated from the North Coast Section volleyball playoffs, five local high school teams take the floor for seminfinal games at 7 p.m. tonight.
Still standing are No. 3 Maria Carrillo in Division 2, No. 2 Cardinal Newman and No. 5 Healdsburg in Division 4 and No. 1 Anderson Valley and No. 2 Rincon Valley Christian in Division 6.
A win tonight will punch a ticket to Saturday’s NCS championship games. To make the stakes even higher in Divisions 1 through 5, a win also qualifies a school for next week’s CIF NorCal state championships. Both teams in a NCS championship game automatically qualify for the state tournament.
The Division 4 semifinals feature a traditional volleyball power in Cardinal Newman and one upstart entry in Healdsburg. If the Cardinals (24-7) defeat visiting No. 3 seed Marin Catholic (25-12) while the Greyhounds (22-10) win at top seed St. Patrick/St. Vincent (32-5) in Vallejo, it will set up a rematch of an early-season contest, won 3-1 by the Cardinals.
The Greyhounds, who finished fourth in the Sonoma County League regular season, have overachieved by all accounts, and just getting to the semifinals of NCS is the exclamation point to a surging finish this season.
Healdsburg, which trailed 9-3 in Game 1, eventually defeated host No. 4 Moreau Catholic, 3-0, on Saturday in Hayward to make the semifinals and give seven-year head coach John Kamra his deepest playoff run by any squad of his Healdsburg tenure.</CW>
“Upsetting Moreau Catholic on the road was great. We handled their serves really well and we got some really big hits,” Kamra said. “Our last two games have been the best we have played all year.”
The Greyhounds only have 10 players, so depth is an issue. In order to defeat the talented and tall Bruins, Healdsburg will need to minimize mistakes and maximize ball control.
“They (St. Patrick/St. Vincent) have some big hitters all around and they have great athletes,” Kamra said. “Not being really tall we need the right sets at the right time. We rely on passing and defense.”
The Greyhounds are led by setter Emma Tynan, middle hitter Julia Somers, and outside hitters Lizzouli Vega and Christie Smith, the team’s lone senior.
Whatever happens against the powerhouse Bruins, Kamra said the Greyhounds have had an excellent season and reached their potential.
“We are excited to be here,” Kamra said. “We have exceeded expectations but we aren’t ready for the season to end yet.”
In the other Division 4 semifinal, expectations run higher for the Cardinals as they finished third in the NBL regular season and were runners up in the NBL postseason tournament to Maria Carrillo. For all its history, Cardinal Newman (then Ursuline) has only won a single NCS girls’ volleyball title, in 1995. Cardinal Newman was knocked out of the NCS last season in the quarterfinals.
“We feel that we are peaking right now and playing at a high level,” Cardinals coach Anna Waller said. “Talent is going to win us games but it is going to take defense and intelligence to win the NCS championships.”
According to Waller’s scouting report, Marin Catholic has an experienced setter, is tall in the front line, plays good defense and has a good outside hitter.
“Marin Catholic plays in the really tough Marin Catholic Athletic League. They are used to playing good teams,” Waller said. “We want to use our serve as a way to attack them and keep them out of their system of play and keep them out of their rhythm.”
Unlike Healdsburg, the Cardinals have a deep team with 16 players and plenty of senior leadership, including outside hitter Emily Papele, setter Emily Bonfigli, and defensive specialist Kayla Cogliano.
“We talked about what a big deal it is to have the seniors lead the team to victory (Wednesday),” Waller said. “The goal has been to win the NCS and this team is capable of doing it.”
In other action, No. 3 Maria Carrillo (28-5) travels to Walnut Creek to face No. 2 Northgate (30-9). The Pumas, who went undefeated in the NBL regular season and won the postseason tournament, last lost Oct. 27, to Northgate, 2-1, in the Broncos’ own tournament.
In Division 6, top seeded Anderson Valley (26-6) and No. 2 RVC (26-5) are poised for a rematch of last year’s NCS championship game, won by Michael McDonald’s Panthers. The teams split two regular-season meetings this year. First, though, Anderson Valley must get past No. 4 South Fork (16-5), while RVC must beat No. 3 California School for the Deaf (22-8).