NCS volleyball: Maria Carrillo’s lead slips away

Maria Carrillo's Caiti Wiesner goes up for a block during Wednesday night's North Coast Section Division 2 semifinal. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Caiti Wiesner goes up for a block during Wednesday night’s North Coast Section Division 2 semifinal. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Playing with power and poise, Maria Carrillo was pushing for the section volleyball finals when the air came out of its attack and Carondelet seized control to end the Pumas’ season.

After forcing a fifth game with quick, sure-handed play, Maria Carrillo took a big lead in the final set. Then turnovers and a resurgent Carondelet front wiped out the advantage for the 3-2 win in the North Coast Section Division 2 semifinals.

“We really picked it up. We knew they would be tough, but we decided to play tougher,” Courtney Seda, one of the Maria Carrillo captains, said. “We had no regrets.”

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The win for Carondelet helped ease the pain of last season’s section loss to Maria Carrillo. That the Cougars had to earn the victory on the road should prepare them for the section finals and state playoffs.

“We just wanted to go up strong against them. It was a team effort,” said Kylie Baumgartner, a top Carondelet front-line threat.

Losing at home before a loudly supportive crowd was disappointing. And not reaching the finals keeps Maria Carrillo out of the state playoffs.

Still, the Pumas should be a force again next season. Returning many top players, Maria Carrillo can build on a season that earned them the section’s second seed.

“We’ll definitely keep this memory. It will help us next year,” Pumas leading hitter Claire Brady said.

A stronger start would have served Maria Carrillo better in their aim for a return to the section finals.

Hitting into the taller Carondelet defense was not working, and the Cougars dug out many balls that got through to keep rallies going. Too many turnovers also frustrated Maria Carrillo.

After scoring three straight to take an early lead, Carondelet took the final four points to win the opening game 25-18 that included a pair of quick-hit kills that had the Pumas off balance.

What would work for Maria Carrillo was moving and passing better to hit around blockers and push shots deeper into spaces on the court.

“We definitely had to be more creative and get scrappy,” Seda said.

With the Carondelet defense focusing on Brady, other Pumas stepped up, led by always powerful Caiti Wiesner and strong net play from Katie Dwyer in the second game. Taking the lead at 6-5, the Pumas would not relinquish the advantage in the 25-22 win. Three times the Cougars pulled within a point.

Carondelet was holding off Maria Carrillo in Game 3. With both Brady and Wiesner hitting with confidence off sharp passing, the Pumas twice were within a point of the Cougars. But each time Carondelet rose up for big blocks, led by Andie Zaharias-Kern, and pressured the hosts into mistakes to reel off points including the final eight for the 25-16 win.

Quickening the pace on offense and putting up solid blocking, Maria Carrillo had Carondelet on its heels throughout the fourth game. The Pumas never trailed despite a pair of Cougar runs to win 25-21.

A big difference in regaining momentum was Maria Carrillo’s defense. Cassie Blanchard anchored the effort with stout digs and Seda made a number of saves.

Carrying the inspired play into the final game, Maria Carrillo took a solid lead with Brittney Veler’s touches complementing Brady’s power up front.

“We got more confident, took stronger swings and we weren’t timid,” Brady said.

Just as quickly, Carondelet scored five straight to even the deciding game with Nicole Haley hitting several winners.

The teams traded six consecutive points before a rally-ending block put Carondelet up for good on the 15-13 win.

Players said fatigue was not a factor after defeating Montgomery in a five-setter Saturday. Indeed, the Pumas played strong much of the Carondelet match.

“We made a pact in practice to play our hardest,” Seda said. “We all wanted our season to go on longer.”

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