Tomorrow, the top two volleyball programs in Colusa County and the Sacramento Valley League will face off against each other for the first time since Oct. 17 of last year, which saw the RedHawks beat the Bears in a come-from-behind, five-set thriller. Colusa won by scores of 16-25, 14-25, 25-18, 25-22, and 15-11.
The Bears swept the RedHawks in their prior meeting on Sept. 28 last season, winning by scores of 25-21, 25-17, and 25-22.
After beating Pierce on Oct. 17, Colusa went on to play for the Northern Section Division V Championship following an impressive playoff run. The RedHawks were swept in the final by Durham, but went on to make history when they captured the first CIF State Girls Volleyball Playoff win in school history against Golden Sierra. Colusa fell to Berean Christian in the second round, but ended the season 29-12 – also a historical mark for the program.
Last season, Pierce marched past Sutter in the opening round of the Northern Section Division IV playoffs, before falling to eventual section champions West Valley 3-1 in the semi-final. The Bears earned a berth into the State Playoffs as the No. 16 seed, and fell to No. 1 seed and eventual Division IV State Champions Presentation High Schooll (San Jose).
Pierce finished the 2017 season with a 25-12 record.
As impressive as the 2017 season may have been for both teams, this season is already shaping up to be even better – and tomorrow’s game will be a major factor in the Sacramento Valley League title chase, as well as a preview of what will almost surely be two of the top teams int the Northern Section Division IV playoffs. Colusa and Pierce are the fourth and fifth ranked teams, respectively, in the Northern Section – behind Chico, Pleasant Valley, and University Prep, according to MaxPreps. They are ranked second and third behind only U Prep in Division IV.
The RedHawks started their season by winning their first 17 matches, dropping just five of the 43 sets they played over that span. Their first loss of the season came on Sept. 11 on the road against Pioneer (22-6). Colusa bounced back with a 3-2 win against East Nicolaus in Trowbridge on Thursday.
Colusa’s early success shouldn’t come as a surprise, as they returned all of their starters from last year’s underclassman-heavy team, and added junior Hannah Taylor, a newcomer to Colusa High, in the middle. Taylor was leading the RedHawks with 106 kills and 56 blocks (third in the Northern Section) through Thursday. Returning seniors Gillian Ayala and Jessica Hickel are second and third on the team with 92 and 83 kills, respectively. Annie Lay’s 353 assists rank her fourth in the Northern Section.
On the other side of the court, Pierce is off to a 12-4 start this season, and are hitting their stride at just the right time, as they head into league play. Pierce graduated a trio of key players from last year’s team, but head coach Kim Travis has filled the ranks from within with Betsy Myers, Sierra Murphy, and Halle Charter.
“I fell like our team has definitely filled those holes well,” Travis said. “Halle Charter has really done a fantastic job replacing Emily Kuykendall, and Betsy Myers has come in and seamlessly taken over at Libero and is killing it as a sophomore. With Sierra Murphy (emerging as a second setter alongside) Emily Ehrke, we’ve been able to run a 6-2 and are able to have three hitters on the court at all times.”
Callie Muniz, who finished last season ranked third on the team in kills and second in blocks, and Emily Ehrke, who was second on the team in assists, have continued to be key contributors and have assumed even bigger roles in 2018, and the girls as a whole are starting to mesh well as a team.
“My girls have a lot of fight… They definitely play for one another,” Travis said. “I’m definitely happy with their understanding of ‘We is greater than me.’ That’s definitely starting to show the further we go along.”
Perhaps Pierce’s greatest strength this season is their balanced attack – Travis said she can count on three or four girls to get kills on a nightly basis. Through Thursday, Muniz and Halle Charter had 101 and 100 kills, respectively, to lead the Bears. Emily Ehrke’s 88 kills were third on the team, followed by Abby Mendoza’s 69 and Alexa Dorantes 34. Murphy and Ehrke have split the setting duties this season evenly this season, with 196 and 195 assists, respectively.
Both Pierce and Colusa were at the Battle of the Buttes Tournament in Sutter this weekend, but were placed in different groups during pool play and didn’t meet during bracket play.
Colusa head coach Tina Lyons said her team struggled there, going 2-2. The RedHawks beat Colfax and Gridley but lost to Yuba City in pool play, before falling to Pioneer – the eventual champions – for the second time in four days during the first round of bracket play. Pierce went 3-1 on at the tournament, sweeping Dixon, Bear River, and Las Plumas in pool play before falling to Lincoln in the first round of bracket play.
“This past weekend was the first time I had seen (Colusa) play,” Trais said. “I definitely think whoever comes to watch us play is going to see a good game. I don’t think one team is superior – I think it’s going to be a battle to the end. I definitely think we’re going to have to work around the block. I think Colusa is definitely going to be able to put a block up, and we’ll have to be able to hit around that block. Colusa also has strong serving, so I think we’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game as far as our passing goes.”
Lyons said she also expects a solid showing from the Bears.
“Pierce is always a tough team,” Lyons said. “They are coached extremely well, and have a strong offense.”■