By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
So determined is Cardinal Newman to keep its volleyball season alive that senior captains motivated the team in a new pregame ritual that sparked another section victory Wednesday.
Each player took a name reflecting their abilities. Leading hitter Emily Papale brought fire, for instance, while setter Emily Bonfigli was the leader and defensive specialist Mimi Fowler the reliable one.
“We talked about bringing our strengths together as a team. The team chemistry was super on,” Papale said.
So strong was Cardinal Newman that Marin Catholic rarely led in the Cardinals’ 25-14, 25-23, 25-14 North Coast Section Division 4 semifinal win.
“It gave us a boost of confidence. There was a lot of pressure coming into this,” Bonfigli said.
After playing another home section playoff match in the small former Ursuline High gym with a loud crowd on their side, Cardinal Newman goes on the road for Saturday’s championship contest. Cardinal Newman, seeded second, plays at top seed St. Patrick/St. Vincent, in Vallejo.
By reaching a section final, Cardinal Newman has qualified for the NorCal half of the state playoffs. Last season the Cardinals reached the second round in the team’s first year of play. Ursuline won the 1995 Division 4 section title.
Coming out of the very strong North Bay League, the experienced Cardinals are playing their best when matches count the most. Passing, hitting, defending and serving with confidence, Cardinal Newman has few weaknesses. Even blocking and digging, two areas the team has worked on were strengths Wednesday.
“Tonight was the best. We executed everything,” Papale said.
The talented but younger Marin Catholic team wilted under relentless pressure.
“We couldn’t pass their serves. They were picking up the ball well on defense,” said Carol Raffety, the Wildcats top hitter.
Key in the narrow second game win was Papale’s kills around blocks and finding open spots for winners. A large number of Papale’s 24 kills for the match came in the game that kept momentum on Cardinal Newman’s side.
The game winner came on a defensive play. Blocker Julie Buehnerkemper and hitter Kayla Cogliano rose at the net to turn back a Marin Catholic kill attempt.
Strong defense was also evident in Cardinal Newman’s digging. Three players had six or more digs led by Fowler with seven in the match.
Most impressive was Cardinal Newman’s play at the outset of the decisive third game when the Cardinals blitzed the suddenly error prone Wildcats.
“We came in really positive. But I don’t think we had the energy we needed,” Raffety said.
Cardinal Newman opened the third game on a 14-1 run. Hitter Jazzy McCoy-Loose pounded several winners. The Cardinals won a dozen consecutive points on Bonfigli’s serve — she had six aces on the night to go with 25 assists.
“No one wanted this to be our last game,” Bonfigli said.