VOLLEYBALL: Balers can’t avenge loss to M-A in CCS quarterfinals

Volleyball

Behind eight kills apiece from Regina Mullen and Diane Seely,
Menlo-Atherton cruised to a three-set victory (25-17, 25-17, 25-18)
over San Benito on Saturday in the quarterfinal round of the
Division I playoffs, eliminating the Balers from postseason
contention.
SALINAS

The difference between Menlo-Atherton of last year and Menlo-Atherton of this year was noticeable to anyone who played for San Benito on Saturday.

“They’re just a good hitting team,” said senior defensive specialist Sara Yamasaki, moments after the Balers suffered a season ending three-set sweep at the hands of Menlo-Atherton. “They’re experienced and they know what they’re doing out there.

“There’s nothing we could have done.”

Competing against the Bears for the second straight year in the Central Coast Section Division I Championships, the Haybalers thought, with some additional offense compared to last year’s team, that they may be able to avenge last season’s semifinal loss to Menlo-Atherton.

But the Bears had some additional offense as well.

Behind eight kills apiece from Regina Mullen and Diane Seely, M-A cruised to a three-set victory (25-17, 25-17, 25-18) over San Benito on Saturday in the quarterfinal round of the Division I playoffs, eliminating the Balers from postseason contention.

San Benito ends its season with an 18-19 overall record. It is the first time since 2003 the Balers haven’t advanced to at least the semifinal round of the Division I postseason.

“I’m just sad because we had such a great team, and I’m sad to leave them,” said Yamasaki, who had 15 digs in the match. “We had a really good season. It’s sad to let go.”

San Benito will graduate four seniors from this year’s team, including Yamasaki, Corey Habina, Jessica Steigelman and Mari Vallejo.

“I don’t think it will totally hit me until the banquet,” said Vallejo, who is usually known for her defensive prowess but was moved to the outside hitter’s position on Saturday.

“He told me to hit the ball as hard as I can,” Vallejo said, referring to head coach Dean Askanas, who was looking to implement additional offense into San Benito’s rotation.

The move placed Vallejo on the outside, while moving Ryan Asp to the middle blocker’s position.

“I just tried to do my best,” said Vallejo, who still earned her usual 19 digs.

“I moved Vallejo there to put Ryan in the middle and take bigger swings, and Ryan did very well,” Askanas said. “But the thing is, that team is loaded. You shut down one player and then someone else is gonna get you.

“The whole front line could swing.”

M-A hitters appeared to be hitting so hard, in fact, that they would either hit their spots on the floor for powerful kills, or San Benito would dig the attempts back over the net. The latter result either gave M-A another chance to set up a second hitting attempt, or would volley a softball toward the net that M-A — Seini Moimoi, especially — would spike down with forceful ease.

Moimoi finished with four kills and four blocks.

“Our fundamentals weren’t the problem,” Vallejo said. “They were just the hitting the ball hard.

“They improved a lot offensively.”

In each set, San Benito competed alongside M-A early on. But in each set, San Benito could not withstand M-A’s attack for 25 points.

Baler Katherine Breger led all with 11 kills in the match, and setter Raelynn Heredia had 17 assists.

But M-A was five-deep at the net. Mullen finished with nine digs, Katelyn Doherty added seven kills and six digs, and Ali Spindt compiled five kills, three digs and 16 assists.

“We played our hardest. We played great defense,” Yamasaki said. “We were a year better. But they were a year better, too. They were improved.”

In the second game, the Bears controlled a 13-7 lead when Breger and Steigelman went to work, dropping three straight points on M-A to cut the deficit to just three.

But a timeout from M-A preceded three straight hitting errors by San Benito, and the Bears reclaimed their six-point lead almost immediately.

It was a similar give-and-take story throughout the match.

“They run an interesting offense and defense in one particular rotation, with two blockers splitting the net and the setter pulling off to dig,” M-A head coach Jennifer Wilson said afterward. “To a lot of teams that would be surprising. Luckily, I had seen some tape and we were prepared for it.

The coach later added, “We were trying to be disciplined and tough on our serving to take them out of that system initially.”

As a result, M-A (21-7) will square off against No. 2 North Salinas (28-4) in Thursday’s semifinal round, while in the other semifinal, top-seeded Palo Alto (35-1) will face No. 5 Carlmont (21-13), which upset No. 4 Salinas (23-9) on Saturday.

Askanas feels M-A could give North Salinas “a tough run” next round. The senior-heavy Bears advanced to the Division I championship last season before falling to Salinas in three sets.

“Now that we have that season under our belts, we have four seniors that know what to expect and they are very composed,” Wilson said.

It’s a different case for San Benito’s four seniors, however.

“It didn’t set in until after the game when we had our meeting,” Yamasaki said. “I’m not too disappointed with the loss. Menlo-Atherton was a good team. It’s just sad.”

TEAM 1 2 3

SB 17 17 18

MA 25 25 25

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