The No. 2 Del Norte volleyball team won its first California Interscholastic Federation Division IV State Playoff match ever on Wednesday with a 3-0 (25-18, 28-26, 25-16) sweep of No. 15 University Prep in Thunen Gymnasium.
“It was a great win,” said Del Norte head coach Debbie Lorenzi. “We had a very powerful offense tonight. University Prep hurt us mostly with their tips, but they had a few hard hits in there too.”
Del Norte was able to get out to early leads in the first and third sets and hold on for comfortable wins, but the Warriors needed a late comeback in the second set to pull off the sweep.
Del Norte’s Kaleya Sanchez started out the game red-hot for the Warriors, picking up six straight kills after falling behind 1-0 in the first set to give Del Norte a 6-1 lead that it would never surrender.
University Prep was forced to call a timeout midway through the set after the Warriors took a 19-11 lead, and put together a run with four straight points coming out of the break, but Del Norte wrapped up a set with a run of its own, scoring three straight points capped by an ace by senior setter Payten Healy.
University Prep picked up a couple kills early in the second set during a 4-0 run to start the game, but Sanchez once again got the Warriors’ offense going. The junior hitter picked up two swinging kills, a tap for a kill, and a block for a kill during a 8-2 run to put the Warriors ahead 9-6.
University Prep was able to answer back, however, going on a 9-3 run to retake the lead.
The Warriors chipped away at the Panthers’ lead throughout the middle of the second set, pulling to within one point four times before University Prep ultimately regained the edge.
Trailing 23-21, Del Norte was able to take advantage of back to back errors on the Panthers to tie the score at 23-23. After trading several points, Claire Smith put down a kill for a 27-26 lead and University Prep’s hit went long on the next point to put the Warriors ahead 2-0 in the match.
“We took a really deep breath, then we just said, ‘OK, lets go. We can’t lose because first off it is a home game, and it’s also a state game, so we have to go full out,’” Sanchez said.
With a two-match lead, Del Norte took care of business in the third set to complete the sweep.
The Warriors got off to a 9-4 lead early in the set, and build their advantage up to eight points twice before the end of the match. Late in the third set, Del Norte led University Prep 22-16 before Sanchez picked up another kill, Katherine Martinez recorded an ace, and Paula Mello secured the sweep with her sixth kill of the night.
Sanchez finished the night with a team-high 22 kills to go along with one block for a kill in the match.
“Honestly, I was just going for the kill every time I went up, and if I saw a hole in the middle I would just tip it there,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez was hampered by an injured shoulder early in the North Coast Section Playoffs, but Lorenzi said her junior hitter has been on fire ever since.
“She had a good night. Ever since she hurt her shoulder she has been hitting very well,” Lorenzi said. “It taught her to keep the ball in front instead of cranking back on the shoulder all the time. She uses her body more. I thought everybody did a good job offensively, actually. Everybody had good swings tonight.”
Smith and Mello were both recorded six kills apiece for the Warriors, who had seven players with at least one kill. Healy also made clever use of some quick dumps into the middle, finishing with five kills for the match.
“Payten did some dumping to try to keep the middle blocker on her for a little longer, that helped keep one blocker outside,” Lorenzi said. “It also helped to pull the defense up to open up some deep hits for us. Her dumping really went well.”
Healy was still visibly bothered by an ankle injury suffered at the end of the regular season, but the senior setter still battled through and played the entire game. Lorenzi said the team has been working on covering for Healy on defense, which helped her save her ankle a little better throughout the match.
“We were trying to have other people pick up the tips and just let Payten set,” Lorenzi said. “We have been working on that a lot, and I think that helped a lot. It seems like an easy chore, but it is tough because my hitters want to get out to hit. We finally got it through their heads that it is more important to get the ball off the floor.”
The match is both Del Norte’s first in the CIF, and the Warriors’ first ever win.
“I don’t really have words for it, but it is so cool,” Sanchez said. “I can’t wait for the next home game on Saturday, but I also kind of already have butterflies.”
The Warriors, who qualified for the tournament after reaching the North Coast Section semifinals, had previously made it that far in the NCS tournament before, but the rules for the state tournament have since changed to allow for more schools to participate.
“They have redone the Nor-Cal Tournament, which has given us this opportunity,” Lorenzi said. “To take advantage of it and do well at it I think is big for us. The kids really appreciate the opportunity and they are really trying hard to make a run in it here. We are going to go in, dig down and work hard until Friday to get ready for that Saturday game. Each game is going to get harder.”
Del Norte will be back in action for the second round on Saturday, taking on No. 7 Colfax at 6 p.m. Colfax advanced with a 3-1 (19-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-16) victory over No. 10 Willows in Colfax on Wednesday.
Reach Michael Zogg at email@example.com.