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Golden Valley volleyball keeps cool under pressure, handles Atwater

Golden Valley's Katelyn Bennett (center) and teammate Celeste Castillo (not pictured) were a nice 1-2 punch on Thursday.
Golden Valley's Katelyn Bennett (center) and teammate Celeste Castillo (not pictured) were a nice 1-2 punch on Thursday. SUN-STAR PHOTOS BY MARCI STENBERG

ATWATER -- Matt Thissen's girls have often asked the coach about some of his great Golden Valley volleyball teams.

They're curious to know how they measure up.

"I've told them that physically, they're very similar to our two teams that played in the section finals," Thissen said.

"The big difference is the mental toughness part of the game."

The GV coach watched his team take a leap in the right direction Thursday night.

Players like Katelyn Bennett and Celeste Castillo came up big in crucial moments to lead Golden Valley to a 25-12, 19-25, 26-24, 25-17 win over Atwater in a matchup of contenders atop the Central California Conference.

"Our team has always had mental issues," said Bennett, who racked up a career-high 20 kills to go along with four blocks and 12 digs.

"We didn't play so great in our last game against Turlock. Tonight, we put it all together."

Bennett and Castillo dominated the middle for GV.

Castillo added 13 kills and a career-high 10 blocks.

"Katelyn Bennett didn't play well against Turlock," Thissen said. "She went from having her worst match to her best match of her career in two days."

Castillo came up with two huge plays to finish off a third-game win.

GV scored the final three points of the game to erase a 24-23 deficit.

"They had a really good block and we couldn't hit around it," said Atwater libero Ali Copeland, who led her team with 18 digs.

"We started to cover our hitters better, but Golden Valley was scrappy and got to everything."

Golden Valley had four players record at least 11 digs, with Ali Hague leading the way with 20.

"We knew that the league was on the line tonight," Bennett said.

"We had to find a way to pull it out."

GV now has a bye on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at home with Merced and co-leader Buhach Colony.

"Nothing is settled yet," Bennett said. "We have to keep playing hard.

"Buhach will be the next big game we're looking forward to. We have to win that game."