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Lady Cougars Post Volleyball Playoff Wins
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Taking a quick glance at the official before sending off the serve, Kylee Irwin-Paz paced Escalon with a solid game against Amador, helping the varsity girls nail down the 3-0 quarterfinal win. - photo by Marg Jackson/The Times

Victories against El Capitan and Amador got the playoffs started on the right foot for Escalon’s varsity volleyball girls.

They began the playoff run on Tuesday, Nov. 11 hosting El Capitan. Escalon came in as the number four seed in Division IV, while visiting El Capitan was the number 13 seed.

Escalon dispatched the visitors in three straight.

“We played really well, I was happy, especially since we have several girls that have never been to playoffs,” said coach Kayla Kootstra. “There’s just a different mentality (in postseason) and I am a first year (varsity) coach, so this was my first playoff experience as varsity coach.”

Team and coach worked well together and found the chink in El Capitan’s armor that allowed them to take a decisive win off the court, 25-11, 25-16, 25-10.

“We started off really strong, El Capitan was a good team, but we did a good job of playing our game and exploiting their weaknesses,” said Kootstra.

Leaders for the first round game were Kylee Irwin-Paz with eight kills, Brooke Silva had six kills and three aces. Reily Rocha added five kills and played a solid all-around game, while Taylor Laugero had 26 assists and four aces.

“We had 12 aces as a team, so we took them out of their serve receive effectively,” said Kootstra.

Maddie Nicholas added eight digs, Silva had seven and Irwin-Paz six, while Savannah Guerra had five digs and Krysten Rose recorded two blocks.

Second round (quarterfinal) action saw Escalon taking the court again on Thursday, Nov. 13, hosting Amador. The number five seed, Amador was a winner in the first round but didn’t have enough firepower to take down Escalon. It was another sweep for the home team, 3-0, but Amador put up a fight.

In fact, neither team could get on much of a roll in any of the three games, each one featuring just a couple of points for each side at a time. Escalon went on to post a 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 victory.

“They did a really good job defensively against us,” Kootstra admitted of the visiting Amador team. “I would say we didn’t bring our best volleyball either, we had some players that struggled a bit Thursday night.

“It wasn’t the prettiest win.”

But it was a win, noted the coach, and she said overall it was a solid effort from her team and a good lesson for them all.

“It is important to learn how to win when you are not playing your best volleyball,” Kootstra said.

Game one was the easiest for Escalon, staying a few points better than Amador all the way through. Things tightened up in game two, with some push back from the visitors and Escalon battling to the 25-22 final.

Game three saw the visitors take a 7-5 lead, prompting a timeout from Kootstra for some re-setting of the squad.

“I told them ‘we need to take care of this right now’,” Kootstra said of the message she delivered during the timeout. “Amador several times this season has been down two games and come back to win.”

Following the timeout, Escalon battled back and drew even at 10-10, with the teams then starting to trade points, neither one getting on much of a roll until Escalon stretched it out to a 16-13 lead. Then it was Amador’s turn for a timeout talk, and they worked hard to forge a tie at 19-all before Escalon went on a short run to go up 22-19. The visitors returned the favor and went on a run to tie it 22-22, then misfired on a serve in to the net to give Escalon back the lead, 23-22. From there, a couple of volley battles followed, with the Lady Cougars closing it out in a 25-23 final.

“I was proud of them for battling in game three and coming out with the win, that’s important for the mindset moving forward, being able to win against a decent team in three,” Kootstra said. “It was a really good win for us.”

Kylee Irwin-Paz had an outstanding night for Escalon with 10 kills and 14 digs.

“She played really well,” Kootstra said, noting that Irwin-Paz seemed to be in the right place at the right time for much of the contest.

Silva added six kills and 16 digs, Laugero had five kills and Nicholas added 15 digs.

“Our defense kept us in the game,” said Kootstra, noting that the team improved to 26-9 overall with the second round win.

They were scheduled to travel to Sonora on Tuesday, Nov. 18 for the semifinals, after The Times went to press.

“Number one seed Sonora has rolled through the first two rounds,” Kootstra said.

They shut down 16 seed Hughson 3-0 to start the playoffs and took down ninth seed Ripon Christian 3-0 as well.

“We played them earlier in the season, and lost in three,” Kootstra said of facing the Wildcats early on. “I felt we weren’t well prepared then.”

Sonora also comes in with plenty of experience, as they returned 10 players that won the Section last year and then went to the NorCal finals.

“We were just outmatched (in preseason), they are a very good team but we will be better prepared this time,” said Kootstra. “We have nothing to lose, we need to come in and play our best game, give everything we have; side out and put balls away, negate the physicality they have on their side of the net.”

Winner of the Sonora-Escalon match will advance to the Section final on Friday, Nov. 21 at UC Davis at 8 p.m., taking on the winner of the Ripon (six seed) and Hilmar (two seed) semifinal on the other side of the D-IV bracket.