For Mikela Labno, it’s going to be tough to top her freshman season at Hilmar High.
How do you improve on a year in which you’re part of a volleyball team that goes undefeated on its way to a Trans-Valley League championship and then wins the school’s first volleyball section championship?
“This team was just really special,” Labno said. “I’ll always remember how positive everyone was and just how much fun we had together. This team just got along so well. There are so many good memories.”
Wednesday night’s 21-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-16 loss to Alhambra in the first round of the Northern California Division III playoffs isn’t going to wash away those good memories.
Sure, there were tears for the Yellowjackets as their special season came to a sudden end. However, all the players have to do is look at the blue banner hanging on the wall to remind them of what they accomplished this year.
“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish this year,” said Hilmar coach Patti Harris, whose team finally won the section championship after falling short in the finals for four consecutive years. “Our first goal was to create the team. Our second was to take league. Our third was to go undefeated in league. Our fourth goal was to get that section blue banner and bring that home. We did that.
“I told the girls after the match be proud of everything they accomplished.”
Wednesday was just a tough match against a quality opponent.
The Yellowjackets were bumped up to Division III for the NorCal playoffs this year with the CIF going to competitive equality based divisions instead of enrollment based.
Hilmar (29-14) earned the No. 8 seed in Divison III after winning the Division IV section title in the Sac-Joaquin Section. Alhambra (26-6) was the No. 9 seed after finishing as the runner-ups in North Coast Section Division III playoffs.
The Bulldogs fell behind early after dropping the first game, but rebounded with a strong offense that featured four solid hitters in Sterling Parker, Gabby Chase, Sophia Olson and Michaela Rezentes. The 6-foot-2 Parker was a tough matchup and the Yellowjackets did their best to contest her, sending as many as three blockers her way during the match.
Alhambra forced Hilmar to play from behind most of the match. An unfamiliar position for the Yellowjackets this sesaon.
“We just needed more energy to push through it,” said Hilmar’s senior setter Hannah Pearce, who finished with 43 assists. “We dug ourselves into early holes and put ourselves in bad situations. I feel like they knew where our holes were better than other teams we’ve played.”
The Yellowjackets went down swinging.
Fellow senior Mariah Ahid recorded 15 kills and 22 digs in her final match for Hilmar. Labno, who will be a future star, added 13 kills.
Hilmar played well up front as Olivia Peterson and Erin Benning both recorded four blocks.
It just wasn’t enough to continue the Yellowjackets’ postseason run.
“We gave it our best shot,” Labno said. “That’s all we could do.”