A large and vocal crowd cheered Escalon in victory on Saturday, as the varsity volleyball girls capped a run through the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs with the Division IV title.
It was the first ever volleyball blue banner in the history of the school, the Lady Cougars outlasting Union Mine 3-2 in the finals on Nov. 9.
Both teams battled – Union Mine taking the opener – but then Escalon putting up back-to-back wins. The Diamondbacks took the fourth set to force the fifth and deciding game. Escalon prevailed in a 15-11 decision.
With the title match played in nearby Ripon, plenty of Cougar fans made the short trip and packed the stands.
“The girls fed off the crowd and the energy they were receiving from them,” head coach Teresa Williamson noted. “It pumped them up to see everyone there to watch history being made.”
And history was made, the team of 12 all adding their talents and playing their roles to bring the title back to Escalon. The Lady Cougars had been knocked out in the semifinal round the past three seasons and hadn’t been to a Section title game since 1998, when they lost to Linden.
This year’s team included seniors Katie Karp, Hannah Boyd, Sage Davis, Natalie Cortes, Tess Cosby, Melanie Smith and Mya Beary; juniors Koren Rodriguez, Elise Gonzales, Mya Scott; sophomore Amanda (Mandy) Murphy and freshman Emily Vickers. Team captains were Boyd, Cosby, Smith and Murphy.
“It is very rare for a coach to be able to say that a Championship win is truly a collective effort by all 12 players on the team,” said Williamson. “I am very proud to say I am able to say this.”
Assisting Williamson on Saturday were JV coach Krystal Rodriguez and freshman coach Nicole Bianchi while Williamson also credited her daughter Stephanie for helping out with the setters during the playoffs.
“She has been instrumental with making my offense quicker and I do believe Stephanie has been a huge part of our success for playoffs,” Williamson explained.
With on court leadership from seniors including Boyd, Cosby and Smith to the tough as nails performance from freshman Vickers, the Lady Cougars were well-prepared for the Saturday afternoon battle. It turned in to a nearly two-hour marathon, with scores of 21-25, 25-18, 25-15, 18-25, 15-11 seeing Escalon nail down the 3-2 victory.
Union Mine came in as the No. 4 seed in the division, Escalon was the No. 2 seed. In the semifinals played earlier in the week, Tuesday, Nov. 5 the Lady Cougars shut out No. 3 seed Calaveras 3-0 while Union Mine battled to get past No. 9 El Dorado, 3-2.
Saturday’s action featured timely kills and big blocks on both sides of the net but Escalon ultimately had just a little too much talent and determination for the Diamondbacks to overcome.
“This team is very competition driven, they refuse to go down without a fight,” Williamson explained. “It also helps that the majority of my players play competitive club volleyball in the off season. It helps them prepare for higher competition and for moments like this in the post season.”
When the last point was scored, the Lady Cougars erupted on the court and the fans in the stands joined in, happy to be there for the historic moment.
“Just every good feeling in the world, I feel them right now,” said senior Hannah Boyd, whose setting was key to the victory.
“It’s insane, we worked really hard as a team, there were no letdowns,” added junior Koren Rodriguez, who came up with some clutch serves in the 15-11 finale. “You just have to believe in your team and believe you can do it.”
Sophomore Mandy Murphy said they did their homework before facing the Diamondbacks.
“We watched a lot of film, we watched where they put their shots,” she said, adding that though they took the loss in the opener, they got back on track once they shook off the early nerves.
Freshman Emily Vickers also came up huge for the team and said the entire squad was in the same frame of mind heading in to the championship match.
“Coach said that we had to earn it so we came in knowing that,” Vickers said. “We had to be ready for anything.”
There were big efforts from players in all positions.
“Hannah Boyd has taken a bigger role this year in leading her offense, and her expectation of the hitters is higher. Melanie Smith and Mandy Murphy have owned the net offensively and defensively,” Williamson said. “Tess Cosby has continued to own the back row with her passing and talking and her leadership. Emily Vickers filled some big shoes with the seniors I lost last year.”
In the championship match, Boyd dished out 47 assists and had nine digs while Cosby had 31 digs and two aces. Murphy notched 29 kills, two aces and 10 digs, with Smith adding 12 kills and three blocks. Vickers had 16 kills, five aces and 10 digs.
“It feels great, our hard work finally paid off,” libero Tess Cosby said.
And even though the teams fought through five games, Williamson said there seemed to be a resolve from her girls as they headed out for the deciding match.
“I feel they believed in themselves as a team and were determined to win,” the coach pointed out. “Again, it is that competitive nature these girls have and it kicked in.”
The wait, at least for senior Melanie Smith, was worth it and made the title that much sweeter.
“After trying to get here three years in a row, I’m so glad I did it my senior year with these girls,” Smith said.
The Section title win lifted Escalon to a 29-9 overall mark and, more importantly, brought the first blue banner home for the program.
“This was extra special with Escalon High celebrating its 100th Anniversary, to add the cherry on top with a Section Championship,” Williamson said.