One of the reasons the El Capitan High volleyball team was looking forward to moving to the Central California Conference this season was matches like Tuesday night.
The Gauchos are looking to build rivalries with the Merced and Atwater schools. El Capitan hardly broke a sweat on its way to a Western Athletic Conference championship last season.
The Gauchos are definitely getting tested in the CCC. El Capitan defeated Golden Valley 17-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-13 to improve to 2-1 in the league and 5-8 overall.
“We want to impress,” said Gauchos junior Makenzie Webber, who finished with 14 kills, 13 digs and three aces. “We want to show we’re not just little El Cap. There’s definitely a lot of big rivalries in the CCC. It’s definitely a lot more competition. It’s a lot more fun with games going back and forth.”
The Cougars (6-8, 0-3) are a young team with a first-year coach in Kelly Leonardo. Golden Valley started out strong, but its inexperience showed later in the match.
“Our energy level stayed up, but our service receive and passing were a little weaker after the first game,” Leonardo said. “The girls did a good job. We focused on keeping our energy level consistent. Now we need to work on some fundamentals with passing and serve receive.”
Senior middle blocker Abbee Croninger recorded seven of her match-high 24 kills in the first game.
However, the Gauchos responded and controlled the match the rest of the way.
It started with El Capitan’s serves. After eight service errors in the first game, the Gauchos only made two bad serves in the second game.
That allowed the offense to go to work as Ariana Johnson and Webber combined for seven kills as El Capitan tied the match at 1-1.
“We passed the ball a little better,” said El Capitan coach Maycol Fernandez. “Our setting improved a little, too. I think having seniors makes a big difference. It makes us more prepared to play against these CCC teams.”
The turning point came late in the third game with the score 21-21. That’s when the Gauchos took over with four straight points to close out the set. Johnson started the run with a kill. Courtney Volk added two aces to help give El Capitan a 2-1 lead.
“In volleyball, the last five points in each game are so important because the game is all about momentum,” Leonardo said. “That third game was 21-21 at one point. We’re still young, and some of our bad plays happen at the very end.”
The Cougars never really threatened in the fourth set as they fell behind 17-9.
Karen Kale finished with 34 assists and four aces for the Cougars. Hannah Borges led GV with 15 digs.
Johnson paced the Gauchos with 17 kills. Yessenia Segarra added 36 assists and Kelsey Davis led the defense with 13 digs.
“I like that this team never gives up,” Fernandez said. “I like their attitude and the way they play hard every game. They look like they are enjoying the game.”
Pitman 3, Merced 0 in Merced – Kaylin Randhawa recorded 12 kills and two blocks as Pitman swept the Bears 25-3, 25-9, 25-12. Kiayanna Torres added 35 assists and five aces for Pitman (13-1, 3-0 CCC).
Turlock 3, Atwater 0 in Turlock – Julia Handy finished with 33 assists, three blocks and five aces to help the Bulldogs dispatch the Falcons 26-24, 25-17, 25-9.
Merced 276, Golden Valley 367 in Merced – Phoebe Arista turned in the low round of the day with a 49 and Kaitlyn Neely recorded a 53 to help the Bears improve to 4-2 in the CCC.
Atwater 273, Buhach Colony 282 in Atwater – Nicole McMillin finished with a round of 47 and Ashleigh Esau added a 49 to help the Falcons even their record at 3-3 in the CCC. Selena Thao shot 42 for the Thunder (2-4).