After closing the season with a loss to Golden Valley, Merced High volleyball coach Marcia-Marie Rosson challenged her players to come up with a cheer that would help keep their spirits up between games.
"Whether we were winning or losing we struggled getting ready for the next game," Rosson said. "I told them to find something and they did. Sometimes you have to come up with something outside of the box."
Whether it was the campfire-like cheer or a sense of urgency brought on by the arrival of the postseason, No. 15 seed Merced came out inspired and defeated No. 18 Merrill West of Tracy 25-13, 25-19, 25-18 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 outbracket game on Thursday night on Clemons Court at Merced High.
It was Ashley Brauchler and Kelcy Smiley who came up with the cheer that had Merced players screaming about peeling oranges, bananas and other food items.
"It's silly and hilarious," said Bears setter Erika Beaudry. "We were all cracking up."
If anything, the nonsense helped keep the Bears loose.
"It's something that helps us forget all the negativity that might be on our mind from the last game," said senior Vanesa Serna. "We're stomping and clapping. We're just having fun."
The Bears (11-10) felt they had to regroup after the loss to Golden Valley on Tuesday.
Despite some late season struggles, Rosson had a good feeling about how her team would respond against West (20-13).
"I think we played more like us than we have the last five games," Rosson said. "We had a strong practice (Wednesday) night. I expected our team to come out aggressive."
Merced jumped out to a 17-8 lead in the first game with the help of two 4-0 runs and a run of five straight points.
West made the match much more competitive in the final two games, but the Bears were just too much down the stretch.
Merced scored seven of the final nine points in the second game to go up 2-0.
After the Wolf Pack jumped out to a 13-7 lead in the third game, Merced used an 11-1 run to open up a 17-14 lead.
West never recovered.
Samantha Roberts paced the Merced offense with 11 kills. Serna had a nice all-around game with eight kills, four aces and 14 digs.
"I think we might have had a few nerves early," Beaudry said. "It's our first time in the playoffs in a while. I think we were more excited than nervous and wanted to play.
"We wanted to come back and redeem ourselves from the Golden Valley game. We wanted to show we're a better team than that."
The win was Merced's first postseason victory since 2007.
"This is the first time I've been in the playoffs my entire time in high school," Serna said. "This feeling is so amazing. Nothing can describe it."
Merced advances to play No. 2 St. Francis on Tuesday in Sacramento.
The Troubadours are the two-time defending section champion. They are 30-7 this year and ranked No. 18 in the state by MaxPreps.
"We have a very tough match ahead of us," Rosson said. "We knew that coming into this match. We have to play the best Bear volleyball we possibly can."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or email@example.com.