PD Preps Insider: A peek inside Empire preps

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Maria Carrillo's Cassie Blanchard (Photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Cassie Blanchard (Photo by Crista Jeremiason, The Press Democrat)

The Empire’s top prep girls’ volleyball team could be good enough to post an undefeated league season.

Maria Carrillo is ranked third overall in the North Coast Section and second in NCS Division 2, by MaxPreps. Leaders of the North Bay League, the Pumas face a test Thursday at Windsor. The Jaguars also are undefeated in NBL play.

Hitters Claire Brady and Caiti Wiesner lead Maria Carrillo in kills. Brittney Veler is the Pumas’ top blocker up front. Cassie Blanchard is the team’s digger supreme.

Playing a typically tough nonleague schedule, Maria Carrillo has recorded impressive wins, including a home win over Sonoma Valley, the Empire’s other top team.

Dragons pace the SCL

Close behind Maria Carrillo in girls’ volleyball is Sonoma Valley, the other Empire team aiming for an undefeated league campaign.

The Dragons are ranked fifth overall in the North Coast Section and number one in NCS Division 3 by MaxPreps. Sonoma Valley has not been beaten in the Sonoma County League. The Dragons’ toughest league match could be Tuesday at Petaluma.

Delaney Swanson and Kiara Miles power the Sonoma Valley attack. Mackenzie Albrecht is the defensive anchor up front. The Dragons can dig out attempted kills with the best, led by Anastasia Claros and Albrecht.

Here’s the kicker

One of the secret weapons for the Casa Grande football team is junior kicker Matt Abramo. His three field goals against Montgomery (including a 42-yarder) certainly played a role in the Gauchos’ win. Less obvious was Abramo’s kicking from a tee. Of his six kickoffs last Friday (not counting a squib to kill the final few seconds of the first half), five reached the end zone and were downed for touchbacks, denying the Vikings good field position.

Viking mentality

There are bigger runners in the Redwood Empire, and faster runners, too. But it’s difficult to imagine anyone running harder than Montgomery’s Logan Francavilla. The senior pounded out 72 yards on 20 carries against a tough Casa Grande defense last Friday, and he earned every yard. Francavilla fought his way into the end zone for two touchdowns, helped by a push from behind by his offensive line on one of them.

Leader of the pack

Calistoga running back Dylan Alvarado ran for over 400 yards Friday in a win over Emery, to rank fourth among state rushing leaders, according to MaxPreps.com. Alvarado has 1,098 yards in 98 carries for an average of 11.2 yards per rush. He averages 219.6 yards per game.

Alvarado did move to the top of the North Coast Section rushing leaders, passing Pittsburgh’s University of Hawaii-bound star Harris Ross. Ross has 969 yards rushing in four games. Alvarado has played five games.

That’ll leave a mark

Rancho Cotate earned its win over Windsor in a hard-hitting football contest in Rohnert Park last Friday.

The top tacklers for each team left lasting impressions on their opponents.

Leading the Rancho Cotate defense were Cale Tuttle, with six solo tackles, and Isaiah Barragan, with five solo tackles, an assist, and an end zone interception.

Windsor’s defense was led by Jeremy Thompson with six solo stops.

Vikings hold top soccer spot

Montgomery entered the week with a 9-1 mark and the No. 1 spot in the North Coast Section girls soccer rankings released by MaxPreps.com. Empire teams hold nine of the top 10 spots in the poll. Maria Carrillo (7-0) is ranked second. Petaluma is third with an 8-1 mark.

Cloverdale (5-0) is the first small school in the ratings at No. 4, followed by Cardinal Newman (6-3) and Sonoma Academy (7-2). That’s where Empire control of the ratings ends. Humboldt-Del Norte League Big Five Conference power Arcata is seventh at 11-3. Rancho Cotate (9-4), Middletown (6-2) and St. Vincent (9-2) round out the NCS top 10.

Murphy does it all

Football coaches preach that it takes more than one man to make a team, but St. Vincent is testing that theory. Senior running back Derek Murphy accounted for 176 yards of total offense, on 25 touches, in a 33-8 win Saturday over Stellar Prep of Hayward. The Mustangs accounted for just 227 yards on 57 offensive plays, meaning that Murphy accounted for 78 percent of the team’s offense. Murphy touched the ball on 44 percent of St. Vincent’s plays and scored three touchdowns.

Better now that back is back

After a lopsided loss to St. Bernard of Eureka, at home, Fort Bragg head coach Roy Perkins discussed the Timberwolves’ poor performance in a 40-7 defeat. Then, he mentioned most casually, “Our running back Zack Smith didn’t play due to an injury.” Some would’ve headlined that the senior star was injured and that the team offense is lost without him. How important was Smith’s knee injury to the Timberwolves 1-2 start? Well, he came back last week in a 33-6 win over Lower Lake to rush for 292 yards and four touchdowns.

“With Zack back, we feel like we’re finally in a position to start being competitive and start playing well,” Perkins said.

Keeper the silver lining

One player can make a big difference in the outcome of a girls’ soccer match.

Rincon Valley Christian fell behind 7-0 very early in Tuesday’s game against Sonoma Academy, but wound up losing 9-0 after changing goalkeepers midway through the first half. “Their starting goalkeeper arrived late,” said Sonoma Academy coach Chris Ziemer. “We scored a lot early, but the regular keeper was much more confident and aggressive. I think if she’d have been in there at the start, it might have been a much different match.”

Senior team co-captain Iris Lin was bombarded with shots on goal, but yielded only two scores in the final 50 minutes of action for Rincon Valley Christian.

Lin’s late arrival is one side effect of school districts lacking a transportation budget. When players coordinate their own rides after a full day of classes and activities, it’s not difficult to miss the star of a contest in any sport.

Youth leadership

Sonoma Academy girls soccer sits atop the North Central League II standings with a team that features just four seniors. There are nine freshmen, including standouts Sally Ziemer and Phoebe Marshall. Co-caption Chloe Colbert is one of three sophomores on the roster.

“Girls soccer allows for younger players to come in and make a bigger impact on the varsity than they can in boys soccer,” said Coyotes coach Chris Ziemer. “There’s a big physical difference between freshmen and sophomore boys and senior boys. For girls, they can come in and make an impact with athleticism and experience. Plus, I think when freshmen come in from top club programs, it’s a much easier transition for them to immediately help a varsity program.”

Press Democrat Staff Writers Phil Barber, Michael Coit and Ted Sillanpaa contributed to this report. Check back Thursday night for even more Dissa & Data.

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