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Line Up Shuffle Is Key In Volleyball Win
Escalons Nicole Sarkozy, 21, lines up the dig as teammate Maddie Nicholas, 14, looks on during a tense Trans-Valley League match against Ripon on Wednesday. The varsity Lady Cougars battled to a 3-2 victory. Marg Jackson/The Times


After taking down Riverbank in three games on the road Monday, the Escalon Lady Cougars faced off with a tough Ripon team on Wednesday. Pushed to five games, the host team did get the 3-2 win in thrilling fashion, taking the final two games of the set.

First, though, they traveled to Riverbank on Monday, Sept. 21 and won in a sweep, 25-11, 25-6, 25-9.

“They were scrappy, they got a lot of balls up, and they played aggressive,” Escalon coach Kayla Kootstra said of the host Riverbank girls. “That was an improvement over what we have seen in the past.”

Kootstra also said another improvement came from her team, as they sometimes have had trouble putting away teams.

“Props to my girls for staying mentally focused to take care of the game,” Kootstra said. “They have struggled against that, in the past we have made errors, kept games close that shouldn’t be.

“This time we came in, took care of business, getting the results we needed.”

Kylee Irwin-Paz had 13 kills and Natalie Bianchi added 11 digs. Taylor Laugero had 19 assists and Cydney Keener added 11.

“Cydney set our last game for us, which proved to be a good idea,” Kootstra said, as Keener was the spark that helped lift Escalon to the Wednesday win over rival Ripon.

Nicole Sarkozy had six aces against Riverbank, Sarah Leal, Jaden Scott and Irwin-Paz had one block each.

Wednesday’s match, on the home court in the midst of a busy Homecoming week, saw the Lady Cougars fall in the opener, 18-25, come back to win 25-21 in the second and then take a 15-25 loss in game three. They prevailed in game four, 25-21 and won the deciding game, 15-9 for the 3-2 match win.

Tabbed as a big Trans-Valley League battle, Kootstra said she doesn’t feel it was “an upset” for her team to beat the Indians, since they have handled them the last several times the squads have met. It just took a little longer and required some major shuffling of the line-up midway through.

“We didn’t play super well for the first three games especially, but we turned it around in games four and five,” Kootstra said of prevailing over the Indians. “They are a very good team, but I wasn’t looking at it as they were the favorite.”

Still, Ripon played with more poise in the early going, the host Lady Cougars unable to find their rhythm. A few factors, though, made the difference.

“I do think that our preseason play, even though we took our lumps, helped us in the game against Ripon,” Kootstra said, noting the girls were able to hold steady and battle back from being down.

“They really turned it around. I put Cydney (Keener) in to set for game four, she had set for us for a whole month in preseason so the girls knew her, they knew her sets, that definitely helped us on Wednesday night,” Kootstra explained.

Moving Keener to setter meant Taylor Laugero, the normal setter, took on a different role for the final two games.

“Taylor was just a little bit off setting Wednesday night, and because she was off, everyone was off a little bit,” noted Kootstra. “Not only did Cydney step up at a huge moment – tied in the middle of game four, props to her for getting that (helping get the win) done– I think that just brought a boost. Plus I was able to move Taylor to defense, that brought another energy boost to us, with Taylor on defense things settled down and I just felt like the whole energy on our side of the court changed when I made that change.

“We went into game five knowing we were not going to lose; it was just a different momentum swing.”

Irwin-Paz led the team with 12 kills, while Sarkozy added 10.                                                        

“I moved her to outside in game two, she had a great game for us out there,” Kootstra said of Sarkozy.

Laugero had 26 assists and 15 digs, Bianchi had 20 digs, Laugero and Scott had three aces each and Keener tallied nine assists in a game and a half of setting.

Even after the thrilling TVL win, the week was not over for the Lady Cougars. They headed to the Oakdale Varsity Invitational on Saturday.

“We took third, we played Modesto High and Calaveras in the morning, beat both of them in two,” said the coach. “Then we had a long layoff, we finished the morning games around 11 and didn’t play again until about 2:30 and we had to play Hilmar. That wasn’t ideal, time wise, we lost in three but we played them super tough, they won 16-14 in game three but we also had two game points we didn’t take advantage of.”

Though the loss to Hilmar dropped them into the third-fourth place game, Kootstra said that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“It was an outcome that didn’t really matter as far as league and playoffs go,” she said of facing Hilmar. “So it was good to see them in that setting.”

Escalon then beat Oakdale in two games in their final match of the day to take third place honors.

They were slated to travel to Mountain House for league play on Monday, after The Times went to press, and the varsity only will be on the road today, Wednesday, at Modesto Christian.