Cameron Gray looked every bit the part of future Division I college volleyball player in leading Buhach Colony past Elk Grove in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs on Tuesday night.
The Thunder junior outside hitter was the real deal, racking up 23 kills and 19 digs as No. 8 Buhach Colony edged No. 9 Elk Grove 26-24, 25-20, 15-25, 25-12.
Gray showed why she’s already landed a full-ride scholarship to Boise State after high school.
“Didn’t she?” Buhach Colony coach Andy Hill said. “Her approach tonight was out of sight. She jumped well. Her swing and footwork were fantastic and her passing and defense was great.”
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The pressure of the playoffs motivated Gray to take her game to another level. It’s the playoffs it’s do or die. Your next loss could be your last match.
Gray isn’t ready for the Thunder (17-12) season to come to an end.
“I feel when we get into the playoff season, I get into a different mentality,” Gray said. “It’s not like league. League is a fun time. You want to win. In the playoffs you have to win. I feel it’s a different environment out on the court.”
Gray seemed to be leaping a little higher and hitting a little harder from the start as she recorded nine kills in the first set alone. Gray recorded four kills and a block during a Buhach Colony 6-1 run that erased an 18-13 deficit in the first game.
When the Elk Grove block focused too much on Gray on the left side, Thunder setter Mallory Pazin (28 assists) did a good job of going to the right side to Miranda Baptista (13 kills).
Baptista went uncontested at the net on many occassions throughout the night with the block set up against Gray.
“It opens up Miranda and we key on that,” Hill said. “The second our setter sees the middle blocker cheating toward Cam, we shoot it back to Miranda on the right side. Our setters are good enough to see that.”
Once the Thunder got going, they were tough to stop.
Freshman Maggie Seifert chipped in with 13 kills and Hill felt Leanne Melo (16 digs) turned in one of her best performances in the back row, particularly with her service receive.
Despite being undersized against an Elk Grove team that played three players standing 6-feet or taller along the front row at times, the Thunder held their own at the net.
Buhach Colony recorded four blocks in the second game, including back-to-back blocks from Karlee King.
The one blemiss for the Thunder was the third game where they looked unfocused after jumping out to a two-game lead.
“The second we lose a little momentum we tend to do that every time and it tends to be the third game,” Hill said. “The third set has been our nemesis.”
The Thunder regrouped and opened the fourth game with a purpose, jumping out to a 17-4 lead and forcing Elk Grove to burn through its two timeouts.
“I think losing that third game was kind of a wake-up call for us,” Gray said. “We had to focus. We knew we could beat this team. We didn’t want to let it go any further than it did.”
Next up for the Thunder is No. 1 seed Ponderosa for a quarterfinal matchup. The Bruins (30-4) cruised past No. 16 Laguna Creek 25-4, 25-14, 25-14 on Tuesday night.
“Ponderosa is next for us and we’ve done a bit of scouting on them,” Hill said. “They are a strong program. Elk Grove is a strong program. We don’t have room for any lapses the rest of the way. We have to play up. We have to play strong. We have to play older than what we are. We have to have that small and mighty mentality to carry us through the playoffs.”
Vanden 3, El Capitan 1 in Fairfield – The Gauchos lost a very competitive playoff opener 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 26-24 to the Vikings. Makenzie Webber led El Capitan with 19 kills and 20 digs. Paige Martin added 15 kills and 26 digs and Natalie Collins finished with 49 assists.
El Capitan finishes with a 14-13 record this season.
Le Grand 3, Millennium 0 in Le Grand – The No. 8 seed Bulldogs cruised past the Falcons 25-10, 25-11, 25-13 as Alex Ultreras finished with 10 kills and Sarah Zuniga added 12 digs and five aces. Le Grand travels to top seed Colfax on Thursday.
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El Capitan 17, Ceres 3 in Merced – The No. 3 seed Gauchos blitzed the Bulldogs in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs. Kendall Thomas paced El Capitan (18-12) with six goals and five steals. Fellow freshman Alexis Smith added three goals.
Evie Mumford turned in a strong all-around performance with two goals, three assists and six steals.
El Capitan will host No. 6 Bella Vista on Thursday after the Broncos knocked out Merced 13-3 on Tuesday.
Buhach Colony 20, McNair 9 in Atwater – The No. 5 seed Thunder coasted to a first-round rout over the Eagles. Buhach Colony will travel to No. 4 Whitney on Thursday.