State volleyball tournament: Pumas prevail in first round


LOS GATOS — Another playoff outcome was in the balance, but Maria Carrillo would not let their first-round state volleyball match slip away.

Rediscovering a killer instinct and acing the match point carried the Pumas past host Los Gatos 25-17, 25-19, 10-25, 23-25 and 15-10 on Tuesday. Smiles replaced frowns following Saturday’s North Coast Section title game loss, particularly for Maria Carrillo’s five seniors.

“We came out with a lot of fire in the fifth set,” said Mikaela Francis, a senior middle blocker. “We just said ‘how do we want to end our careers?’ We wanted this one.”

Maria Carrillo’s reward for the NorCal playoff win is a rematch with El Camino, on the road again, in a Saturday semifinal. The Sacramento school defeated Maria Carrillo in the first round of the Division 2 state playoffs last season.
Win and advance is the Pumas’ goal since falling in the section title game – a second season the players don't want to end.

“It feels really good, especially after coming back from such a tough loss,” said junior setter Courtney Seda.

If Tuesday’s match reveals anything, it’s that Maria Carrillo players have short memories. The Pumas played with passion in taking a seemingly commanding lead against Los Gatos and then holding off the favored Wildcats, runners-up in the Central Coast Section.

“We kept up with them. At the end, their offense was stronger,” said Los Gatos captain and leading hitter Riana Brennan.

Taller and more athletic, Maria Carrillo played sharp, strong volleyball the first two sets. Mixing up serves and going for kills across the floor, the Pumas pressured the Wildcats into errors when not hitting winners.

Closing out both sets with convincing runs — 7-1 in the first game and 14-4 in the second — showed Maria Carrillo was poised for a win.

“They weren’t at their best because we put a lot of pressure on them,” Francis said.
Francis up front and Ceda on the back row stood out in helping Maria Carrillo start strong. The Pumas’ first server, Francis also anchors blocking and wields a powerful right-hand kill off a circle-around move. Ceda is a sure setter who can hit deep kills.

But the host Wildcats would claw back into the match. Tightening its serve-receive and passing, Los Gatos was energized in a dominating third-game win. Complementing Brenna’s kills was Kristi Brown’s quick tips.

“We came out flat,” Brennan said. “Then we had really good ball control and put pressure on them with our serve.”

Both teams were best when spreading around the kill chances. Getting more hitters involved set up the big guns — Calan Seitz on the Pumas and Brennan on the Wildcats — for more open opportunities.

A tightly contested fourth game was high-quality volleyball, with both teams reducing errors and needing winners to score. There were 10 ties before Los Gatos finished on a 4-1 run for the win.

A strong start to the fifth set carried Maria Carrillo to a lead the Pumas wouldn’t give up. Claire Brady and Seitz were pounding some of their hardest hits of the night, Seitz last hitting the back line.

Serving for the match was Francis. The senior was well-aware of the Pumas team rule: Never miss a serve on match point. She put enough on the ball to handcuff Los Gatos and score an ace.

“I hit it well,” she said.