For the first time in the program’s history, the Pierce Bears’ varsity volleyball team are Northern Section Champions.

On Saturday, Pierce made the long trek to Red Bluff Union High School to take on top-seeded University Prep, and swept the Panthers 3-0, winning by scores of 25-23, 25-21, and 25-22.

“It was definitely a team effort – it was a great effort from everybody, even the girls on the bench,” Pierce head coach Kim Travis said.

It wasn’t just the first section title in the program’s history, but the first appearance in a section title game, period. Pierce arrived there by sweeping Wheatland in the second round of the playoffs and beating Sutter 3-1 in the semifinal. 

“It means everything. We’ve been eliminated three years in a row in the semi-final: once by Sutter, twice by West Valley,” Travis said last week after Thursday’s win over Sutter. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to build this program, so it’s just good to get there for everybody that started with me. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Just getting there wasn’t good enough for Travis’ team – which stormed back from big deficits in the second and third games on Saturday to complete the sweep of the top-seeded team in the tournament.

In the second set, Pierce struggled with mistakes early and fell behind 9-2, prompting Travis to call a timeout and give her team a chance to regroup.

“We were down because we were making errors. In the first part of the season, that plagued us,” Travis said. “In our timeout there, I told them we had to control what we were doing… and that they needed to play tighter and smarter, and they did that.”

After the timeout, Pierce closed the gap to within four, 16-12. The Bears were down 19-15 when Halle Charter stepped to the service line and the Bears seized the momentum. Helped by a couple of University Prep violations and an attacking error, Pierce surged ahead on a 8-0 run – a spate of play that saw senior Callie Muniz log a crucial block and a kill – putting them ahead 22-19. The Panthers finally earned a side-out but failed to string together any points, and Pierce led by at least two the rest of the way. With her team in a game-point situation, 24-21, Muniz added another kill to her total and the Bears captured the second set, going up 2-0 in the match.

Now on the ropes, the Panthers came out on fire in the third set, jumping out to a 7-0 lead before Travis again called a timeout. This time, the message to her team was different.

“In the third game, I called a timeout and just said, ‘They’re playing to stay alive, and we are playing for a section championship. Whose will is greater?’ Then I turned around and sat back down,” Travis said. “Our will was greater. I still don’t know how they did it – I’m still amazed.”

Pierce clawed their way back into contention, and ultimately took their first lead of the set on a Muniz block –which put the Bears up 19-18. Pierce expanded that lead to as much as three before University Prep evened the score again at 22-22. Pierce went on a 3-0 run to close out the game and the match, earning them the Northern Section D-IV title. The Bears had their struggles on Saturday but ultimately overcame them as a team – which Travis said has been a theme throughout the season.

A driving force in Pierce’s win was Muniz, whose leadership the Bears have looked to throughout the season, particularly in the playoffs. Muniz finished Saturday’s match with 12 kills four digs and two blocks, and seemed to come up big for the Bears when her team most needed it.

“The thing with Callie that we’ve seen this season that is most astonishing to me, is that her attitude and focus have really set her apart this season,” Travis said. “She doesn’t get down, doesn’t allow her team to get down, and she, along with Betsy (Myers), bring the whole team together. But when it’s game-changing g and we need it done, Callie is definitely our go-to, and she has definitely done it this season.”

Other Bears with solid outings were Emily Ehrke, who had 13 digs, eight assists and six kills, and Sierra Murphy, who had dished out a team-high 29 assists and had eight kills. Betsy Myers had seven digs and led the team with 22 serve receptions. Katie Williams and Abby Mendoza chipped in eight and six kills, respectively. Travis said it was a true team effort that allowed the Bears to emerge as section champions this season, and added that the team truly began to play selflessly in the latter goings of the regular season. 

“The way they got there was that they started sacrificing for each other and playing to win,” Travis said. “It’s been a struggle for us all season. The fact that we were able to figure things out and understand how to play as a team – it was huge… It was very cool to have it play out how it did.”

While Saturday’s championship game was played nearly 86 miles north of Arbuckle, a strong showing of support for the Bears made it feel almost like a home game. Pierce fans – including parents of players, Pierce students, and about a dozen of Travis’ former players – filled most of the bleachers on one side of the gym. Throughout the tight match, the atmosphere was electric.

“It was just awesome to witness everybody’s energy there,” Travis said. “I think having that energy, that momentum of having people excited for them, it fueled them to perform well, and play to the best of their ability.”

Pierce’s section championship this year has been a long time in the making, Travis added, and credited the players who previously donned a Pierce uniform on the volleyball court for their role in helping her to develop a winning culture for the program.

“I feel like our program is built on the ‘We is greater than me philosophy,’ and it always has been,” Travis said. “I think the girls and parents who have gone through the program believe in and are still a part of it. There were so many girls there (on Saturday) who came through the program. Even though this team is the one that was able to get to the championship, those 12 girls who were there were the girls that built the foundation for this team to stand on.”

This year’s history-making Bears squad now has the chance to keep on building. The Northern Section champions (23-10) earned the No. 3 seed for Northern California teams in the 2018 CIF State Girls Volleyball Championship D-IV tournament. They were set to play No. 14 seeded The Bay School (20-6) in Arbuckle last night at 7 PM. ■

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net