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Volleyball Girls Put Away Playoff Opponents
After getting some first round jitters out - and dropping a game to 16th ranked Summerville - the No. 1 seeded Escalon varsity volleyball girls won their opening match 3-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 8 and rolled past Ripon 3-0 on Thursday, Nov. 10.

That put them into Tuesday's (Nov. 15) semifinals against fifth-seeded Bear River, past press time for The Times. A win there would mean a trip to the Section championship on Thursday, Nov. 17 at UC Davis, facing off with the winner of the Union Mine-Bret Harte semifinal match.

Hosting Summerville on Nov. 8, the girls took a strong first game, 25-15, but battled back and forth with the visiting Bears in game two, finally losing a 28-30 decision. They rallied back with a 25-10 win in game three, then again went back and forth in a good battle with the lower seeded team in game four, ultimately prevailing in a 26-24 contest.

"I think there were some first round jitters," agreed head coach Teresa Williamson of the tough competition at home, adding that the girls may have also relaxed a little, facing off with the lowest seeded team in the playoff bracket.

Serving, which is a strength of the Lady Cougars, was uneven on Tuesday, often providing an easy point for the opponent. But the girls brought it together for a first round win.

Nicole Bianchi ended the game with 20 digs and five aces, Megan Faria had 18 kills and Cassidy Caton was right behind with 17. Kaitlin DaDalt had nine kills and four blocks.

"She played the game of her life, really just phenomenal," Willliamson said of the effort by the junior DaDalt.

Captain Shay Beam added 44 assists.

"We really struggled serving on Tuesday," Williamson said, but noted that the team was strong enough to overcome the unusual problems from the back line.

Thursday, the girls hosted Trans-Valley League rival Ripon, who they had already beaten twice in league play this season. They still had the answer to the Indians, taking them down in three, 25-19, 25-20, 25-21.

"It was very intense," Williamson said of the atmosphere, as the quarterfinal match heated up the Escalon High gym.

Key to the win was the smart play of Beam, who gave the Indians more than they could handle.

"Shay mixed it up so well, she set it up so that the other side never knew where it was going," explained Williamson.

Beam had 29 assists and the team recorded multiple kills, with Caton leading the way with eight. Sam Shipley had seven, Faria logged six and Adalia Cajias notched four kills on the night.

"Sam had seven kills and two blocks, it was the best game of her junior year, she really stepped it up," Williamson said of Shipley.

Bianchi continued her solid play from the libero spot with 26 digs.

The four players with kills gives the Lady Cougars flexibility they haven't had that often in the past, with Beam able to set it for several spots on the floor. Previously, the squad relied on one or two outside hitters to slam it home but now can spread it out.

"It takes pressure off each hitter because you're not depending on just one," said Williamson. "We have come together and are just playing solid volleyball."

In other games on Escalon's side of the bracket, Bear River (No. 3) beat Argonaut (12) and Sonora (No. 4) defeated Calaveras (13) in the opening round. Bear River then topped Sonora, 3-1, in the quarterfinals to set up the Escalon-Bear River semifinal.

On the other side of the Division IV bracket, third seed Mariposa topped Venture Academy (14) in round one while No. 11 Bret Harte got past Hilmar (6) and then Bret Harte beat Mariposa in the second round. Union Mine (7) defeated Colfax (10) and Golden Sierra (2) defeated Marysville (15) in the opening round. Quarterfinal action saw Bret Harte take down Mariposa and Union Mine defeated Golden Sierra, as the lower seeds prevailed in second round play.