Volleyball: Colusa downs Willows in five sets

Jessica Hickel goes up for an attack during the RedHawks match against Willows on Thursday. Hickel's 13 kills were second on the team behind Gillian Ayala.

Halfway through their league schedule, the Colusa RedHawks have put themselves in the driver’s seat for a Sacramento Valley League crown.

Last week’s match against Willows was a litmus test for the RedHawks’ league and section title hopes. At the end of five tight games, Colusa won their first match against the Honkers – a perennial powerhouse in the Northern Section Division IV – in at least 14 years. Colusa won by scores of 22-25, 25-20, 25-16, 16-25, and 15-13.

“This was a first for us,” Colusa coach Tina Lyons said after the RedHawks gave their coach her first-ever win over coach Carol Martin’s Willows squad. “This was a huge game. Carol and her team never disappoint.”

Willows and Colusa split the first two sets in what were a pair of tight games. The third played out similarly, as the two sides were tied at 13-13 before Hannah Taylor scored a kill to give Colusa a side-out and brought Abby Husky to the service line. Husky served four straight points, with a pair of aces and kills from Taylor and Amber Morales, to put Colusa up 18-13. Colusa led by at least four the rest of the way, and Gillian Ayala took over with a 21-16 lead and served the last five points of the game to give Colusa the 25-16 win, and a 2-1 lead in the match.

Willows didn’t go down without a fight and took command of the fourth set early on, jumping ahead 11-3 and then 20-10. Colusa used a 6-3 run to bring themselves within seven points, but a Willows side-out put Taylor O’Reilly at the service line in a game-point situation, and a Claire Maghan hammered down a kill to give Willows the win and force a fifth game.

That fifth and final game couldn’t have been much tighter. After Willows opened the game on a 3-0 run, Colusa tied things up with a three-point run of their own. From there, the two sides played to a 8-8 score, with neither team leading by more than a point over that stretch. With Ayala serving, Colusa pulled ahead 10-8, thanks to a Sophia Stocks kill and a double-hit violation on Willows. The Honkers never recaptured the lead from that point. The closest they came was when they tied the game at 11-11 and had Maghan serving, but Colusa jumped back ahead 13-11 after pair of kills from Jessica Hickel. A Hannah Taylor block ended the game shortly thereafter, as Colusa took the final set and the match with a score of 15-13.

Lyons said that the match against Willows featured stellar serving on both sides of the court, and specifically credited Ayala with providing solid serving the RedHawks. Ayala also led Colusa in kills with 14, followed by Jessica Hickel’s 13. Setter Annie Lay dished out 35 assists – tied for her third best outing of the season.

Lyons also lauded the defensive performance of Huskey, who finished with a team-high 30 digs and 21 serve receptions.

After being bumped up to Division IV this season for the first time, the RedHawks (31-3, 3-0 SVL) are undefeated in matches against Northern Section opponents, having won matches against such D-IV schools as Pierce, Sutter, Willows, Wheatland, and West Valley.

Before the season, Lyons said the jump up to D-IV would be a challenge. So far, it’s a challenge the RedHawks have met head-on: They are currently ranked as the second best team in that division by MaxPreps (behind only University Prep) and are fourth in the section overall.

“I’m just thankful that we’ve improved to be able to compete in Division IV,” Lyons said of her team’s success. “The girls worked hard in the offseason to compete, and we’re competing this year.”

Colusa traveled to Winters last night to face the Warriors (3-15, 0-3 SVL). They head to Live Oak tomorrow to play the Lions (7-14, 1-2 SVL). The game is scheduled for 6 PM.

Brian Pearson is the former 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 included reporting local government and the sports page.