OAKDALE -- When sophomore Jenna Milnik was promoted to Sonora High's varsity volleyball team last week following a season-ending knee injury to a starter, no one knew how the Wildcats would react.
"I've been on teams where a new player has come in and broke up a team," setter Ali Chabot said. "But it was like (Jenna) had been with us all season."
That seamless transition proved pivotal Tuesday, as Sonora turned in one of its top performances of the season to beat rival Oakdale 25-14, 22-25, 25-16, 25-18 and win the Valley Oak League title.
Sonora (18-2, 12-2) and Oakdale (19-3, 11-3) are headed to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, which open Tuesday, but there was little talk about the postseason following the match.
When these schools meet, regardless of the sport, it's about the rivalry. Oakdale upset Sonora in five games in their first match, only adding fuel to the emotional fire.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say this was special, beating Oakdale to win league," said Chabot, whose 20 assists were her second-highest total of the season. "Whenever Sonora plays Oakdale, it's special."
After splitting the first two games, Sonora took control with Milnik (seven blocks), Hanah Blume (eight kills) and Allison Holt (seven kills) at the net. In the final game, Oakdale was within 15-14 before the Wildcats went on a 10-4 run to dethrone the defending champion.
"We learned from our loss to Oakdale that we needed to focus on what we do best," first-year coach Kathryn Spotorno said. "Our blockers needed to worry about blocking, our setters needed to worry about setting."
Milnik's early production at middle blocker made that easier. Confident that the sophomore didn't need help, Holt and Blume could give their full attention to swatting kills on the outside and blocking low returns.
"They were pounding us hard and we got tentative," Oakdale coach Shelli Ponce said. Not surprising for a team that leans heavily on two freshman setters and two sophomores.
"I hope the girls realize what they've accomplished," Ponce said. "We've got the ability to get back to the section final, like last year."