SAN FRANCISCO — Even during warm-ups, the Sacred Heart Cathedral High volleyball team looked impressive.
The passes were on point. The sets were perfect. And the hitters smashed every volleyball almost straight down.
"I think we were a little intimidated," Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said. "There were a few things. The big crowd. We knew they had a lot of experience. And everybody could hit on that team."
It led to an ugly first game. While the Mustangs came back and played well the next two games, the results were the same in a 25-7, 25-14, 25-16 loss in the first round of the CIF Northern California Division III playoffs Tuesday night at Sacred Heart Cathedral High School.
The Mustangs appeared out of sync in the first game, and the Fighting Irish took advantage. 6-foot-1-inch middle hitter Gabrielle Jolly pounded away with five of her team-high nine kills in that game.
"We came back and talked and told the girls to go out there and have fun," Ponce said. "The second game, I thought we played our best volleyball of the night. And the third game we hung in there with them, too."
Oakdale took its only lead of the match in the third game, thanks to four kills from junior outside hitter Jaci Powell. She's part of a large group of underclassmen who played big minutes Tuesday night.
The Mustangs and Fighting Irish had some lengthy rallies in the second and third games, but on nearly every clutch point, it was a Sacred Heart Cathedral player putting the ball away.
"Oakdale was pretty scrappy," Fighting Irish coach Margi Beima said. "They settled down and they didn't go away."
They may be back for the next few years as well.
"Our freshmen and our sophomore teams went undefeated," Ponce said. "And we have a solid group who will be back next year.
"I know we'll be back (in NorCals) next year."
It was the final match of senior Alexis Evans' career, one that spanned through two NorCal appearances. Oakdale's only previous Norcal appearance came two years ago.
"It was a pretty great season," Evans said. "Oakdale's got a good program going. They're going to be back."
But, at the same time, Evans said she would love one more match with the Fighting Irish.
"I wish we could have played them when we had our 'A' game going," she said.
After the match was over, players hugged each other, their coaches, and the handful of vocal fans who made the trip from Oakdale.
"I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls," Ponce said. "We're happy to make it here again. I'm so proud of them."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.