Gia Pridell had a bad feeling before her Le Grand volleyball team ever took the court for the first game. The Bulldogs coach didn’t like what she saw during warm-ups.
“As a coach, I know when they’re warming up,” Pridell said. “I always tell them when they’re warming up I want to be able to see you, hear you and feel you. Today, I could only see them.”
A slow start doomed Le Grand as Woodland Christian defeated the Bulldogs 25-13, 25-19, 25-20 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship game at UC Davis on Thursday evening.
“We had a bad day,” Pridell said. “We were off today. It’s too bad it was it was in a section championship game. It’s so frustrating as a coach, especially when you know you can beat the other team, but you end up beating yourself.”
With a handful of players back from its 2010 Division 6 section title team, Woodland Christian wasn’t bothered by the big stage. The Cardinal jumped on the Bulldogs (16-7) early, taking a 10-6 lead in the first game. Woodland Christian then went on an 11-1 run as they staggered Le Grand with an early 21-7 lead.
“I told our girls to just play volleyball,” Woodland Christian coach Karen Gellen said. “It’s something you love doing and you’ve been doing it for a long time. They did a good job of not worrying about the size of the match.”
Woodland Christian showed why it was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with its stable of solid hitters, including 5-foot-10 senior Macy Carpenter and the high-flying junior Taylour Matsumura.
Despite getting blown out in the first game, the Bulldogs came out strong in the second and third games. When they were able to pass, they were able to play with the Cardinal.
Le Grand’s problem was just too many defensive lapses.
The Bulldogs opened the second game with an 8-4 lead only to see Woodland Christian respond with an 8-1 run to take a 12-9 lead. The Cardinal then took control of the game, opening up a 23-14 lead before Le Grand ran off five straight points to force the Cardinal to call a timeout with their lead cut to just 23-19.
“Le Grand played great defense,” Gellen said of that stretch in Game 2. “They dug balls out that other teams haven’t been able to dig against us this year.”
The Cardinal came out of the timeout and put the second game away with two straight points, including a kill from Ashley Williams.
The third game was closely contested, but it was Woodland Christian able to pull it out down the stretch. Le Grand’s Breanna Flores tipped a ball over the Cardinal block to pull the Bulldogs within 17-16, but the Cardinal closed the match with an 8-4 run to win the title.
Savanna Barnett paced the Bulldogs with 12 kills. Setter Marissa Marchini finished with 17 assists.
As the Bulldog players went to gather their bags they were saluted by the large Le Grand crowd that made the long trip. This was Le Grand’s first appearance in the finals in school history.
“I think we were a little nervous at first,” said Le Grand’s Kinsey Haas, who led the way with 20 digs. “This was our first time out there. I don’t think we were intimidated. The difference was we just didn’t communicate early on. It’s disappointing because I know we could have played with them. If we played our game, I think we could have gone five games.”
The Bulldogs’ season isn’t over. Le Grand will find out on Sunday where it will open the Northern California playoffs.
“I’m happy for the success we’ve had this year,” Pridell said. “I love being the underdogs. This is an experience that my players will never forget; and we’re not done. We’ll see where we go for the state playoffs.”
Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs Division 5 Championship
WOODLAND CHRISTIAN 3, LE GRAND 0
At U.C. Davis
25-13, 25-19, 25-20
LE GRAND -- Kills: Savanna Barnett 12; Blocks: Barnett 1, Breanna Flores 1; Assists: Marissa Marchini 17; Digs: Kinsey Haas 20; Aces: None.
Record: Le Grand 16-7.