Fans of high school volleyball can rejoice as the 2019 volleyball season in now less than a week away.
As a result, the Sun-Herald presents its annual preview of the five local teams from Arbuckle, Colusa, Maxwell, Princeton and Williams.
The two-part series begins with county and league rivals the Pierce Bears and Colusa RedHawks who will battle with Willows for supremacy in the Sacramento Valley League before setting their sights on the playoffs in Northern Section’s Division IV and V respectively.
Next week will feature the Williams Yellowjackets who toil in the Mid-Valley League and Division V, along with two Division VI squads, the Maxwell Panthers competing in the Mountain Valley League and Princeton Eagles in the Pioneer Valley League.
Coach: Kim Travis (10th year).
Last year: 23-9 overall, 4-3 SVL. Beat U-Prep to win NSCIF Division IV section title. Lost to Shasta in the regional semifinals of the CIF State Championship Tournament.
Players to watch: Despite losing Callie Muniz, their All-Section middle hitter/blocker to graduation, Pierce returns every other starter and has an experienced roster that includes seven seniors. A major key to the Bears’ success rests with the first pass and making more of them than any other is junior libero Betsy Myers, arguably one of the north state’s best, and who recorded 328 digs (10.6 per match) and 447 service receptions as a sophomore. To run their 6-2 offense, Pierce will turn to senior Emily Ehrke and junior Sierra Murphy who last year made a collective 851 assists. Yet the duo is far from one dimensional as Ehrke also accounted for 175 kills and 206 digs, while Murphy led the team in aces with 64 and had 209 digs. In the front row outside hitter Halle Charter returns for her senior season looking to eclipse her career high 189 kills from a year ago while fellow senior Abby Mendoza should also supply power on the attack from the outside. Senior Lexi Dorantes and junior Katie Williams will shore up the middle.
Outlook: Last year Pierce made good on their first ever trip to the section game claiming the Division IV crown, but the returning players and their coach Kim Travis are not resting on their laurels. Intent on defending their title, the Bears know they have a target on their backs and that only hard work can get them back to the championship game. While skill wise, they are on equal footing with many of their opponents, factors that give the Bears an advantage, include mental toughness and cohesiveness, which Travis, the reigning Northern Section Coach of the Year strives to promote. “Our schedule is made with purpose and part of it is the competition, but it’s also designed to make us mentally strong. We hope that in these situations we learn our roles and become genuinely more selfless.” They will definitely need both as they face the likes of Chico, Shasta, Davis and Vacaville amongst others. However if the strategy pays off as it did last season, the Bears will be in good position come playoff time and a legitimate threat to repeat.
Coach: Tina Lyons (6th year).
Last year: 35-7 overall, 6-2 SVL. Lost to U-Prep in third round of NSCIF Division IV playoffs. Lost to Colfax in first round of the CIF State Championship Tournament.
Players to watch: Without question the RedHawks, when completely healthy, will have the most dominant pair of middles in the Northern Section boasting two six footers, in Hannah Taylor and Carly Lay, who as juniors last year combined for 200 blocks. Taylor, a relative newcomer to the game, tallied 248 kills and hit at a .307 clip last year and should be a force again at the net. Lay, similar to a year ago is sidelined by an injury as the season opens, but brings a .272 hitting percentage to the attack upon her return. Orchestrating the RedHawk offense is senior Annie Lay, one of the area’s premier setters who doled out 976 assists (7.8 per game) third best in the section, along with serving a team high 105 aces in 2018. Playing significant roles in anchoring the defense this year will be fellow seniors Amber Morales and Cynthia Velasquez. Morales, an all-around performer was second on the team in both digs and service receptions last year while Velasquez steps into the libero spot to solidify the back row. Juniors Kaylie Gwinnup and Emily Pingrey along with sophomore Reese Roper will provide versatility and be counted upon to make immediate contributions in their first full season at the varsity level.
Outlook: A gut wrenching loss to U-Prep in the NSCIF Division IV playoffs a year ago brought an end to the best season in Colusa’s history and should serve as motivating factor in 2019. With school enrollment now below 400, the RedHawks return to Division V and given their athleticism, if they can stay healthy should be considered a favorite to win their first section title. Coach Tina Lyons has ramped up the difficulty in the schedule taking her squad to the Kamehameha Tournament in Hawaii later this month and to the Padre Invitational in Carmel come October. “We play in a tough league so venturing out will help us achieve our goal of getting stronger,” said the two-time Appeal-Democrat Coach of the Year. “This group has a plan and is working together, so I really can’t wait to see what they will achieve.”