Jessica Casey got the battle she was looking for.
Her Merced College women's volleyball team was coming off of a three-game sweep in which it was overmatched against defending conference champ Fresno City. She didn't want to see a repeat performance against an equally formidable Taft team.
On Wednesday night, the Lady Devils rose to the challenge, splitting the first two sets and keeping things tight in the third and fourth. Unfortunately, MC could never string together a run when it needed it, and the Cougars pulled away for a 25-20, 22-25, 25-16, 25-18 victory at Don Reid Court.
"We came out and competed with them point for point," Casey said. "But we need to start telling ourselves we can win these games.
"I don't know that they actually believed it was there for the taking and Taft pulled away."
Taft (2-2 Central Valley Conference) used its size and strength advantage to take set one, riding Chanel Cantere (match-high 22 kills) to an early lead.
Merced College countered with a Hawaiian punch of their own. Kuuipolani Braceros paced the Lady Devils with a team-high 12 kills and four blocks, while Jaclyn Frank and Jenna Fournier each chipped in 10 kills.
The Lady Devils (1-3 CVC, 6-6) squandered an early lead in set two, but recovered. A Fournier kill gave MC a 22-21 lead that it would never relinquish.
"I told the girls we have to come out and fight from point one," Braceros said. "We have to have maximum intensity from the beginning and never look back. It's hard, because we could have won tonight."
Taft's size began to take over in the third set. Sina Mauga had five of her match-high seven blocks, including a stuff block to finish the 25-16 win.
The Cougars raced out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set, but MC hung tough. The Lady Devils whittled the lead to 14-13, but could never seem to get ahead.
Taft answered with a 5-0 run and never looked back.
Serryna Gonzalez led the Lady Devils with 38 assists in the loss and Noelle Granado had a team-high 16 digs.