By Ori Polkinghorne
As coach Amanda Brown watched the North Coast Section Volleyball playoff setting brackets, she knew her team was up for a tough battle. Their 13th-seeded Wildcats (with a record of 21-13) were set to take on the four-seeded Carondelet Cougars of Concord (22-11). What Brown didn’t anticipate was having to climb that hill without three players, all three of whom were either ill or injured and all were reliable contributors. As the Wine Tour bus made its way to the East Bay, she used the time to come up with an entirely different plan.
A major adjustment was the move of Allie Iversen, a second-year left-handed hitter, to the setter position. Iversen was one of the Wildcats’ strongest offensive threats all season, and now her coach needed her to play passers, a role she hadn’t played since middle school. The second big step was the addition of a brand new player to the roster. Freshman Lola Pearson was called up by the JV squad and has now been asked to make her varsity debut in the playoffs. Getting called up for the playoffs is almost always just a gesture of honor—seldom do call-up players get serious playing time. Pearson would need to play left batter and be a primary passer.
Given the big changes for the ‘Cats, it was understandable that the first set against the host Cougars would look more like a get-to-know mix than a volleyball game. Ukiah was confused and could neither attack nor defend himself. The plethora of Wildcat ‘free balls’ sent over the net by Carondelet were repelled, mainly by 6’3′ Isabella Ehrlich, the Cougar’s center hitter. Ukiah was routed 25-6.
Something inexplicable happened in the three minutes between sets. Ukiah came back with stiffened determination and fought Carondelet point by point. The ‘Cats came on offense and defense. Iversen’s serves revealed Cougar’s weaknesses in passing the ball. A Pearson kill gave Ukiah a 6-5 lead. Although Carondelet had a large advantage in height at net, the Wildcats managed to hold off their attack. Iversen and Sydney Kubin blocked a batsman to level the score at 11-12. A few games later, it was Kubin and Pearson who combined for a loud block and point, resulting in the 14-15. An Iversen kill gave the ‘Cats a 17-16 lead. Ukiah had come up with something! The score was skipped until Carondelet pocketed the set with a 25-21 win.
The third set was much more similar to the second than the disastrous opening game. Again it was Allie Iversen who took the lead with a kill and an ace of serve to keep the score at 5-7. Kubin hit a kill through Cougar block to make it 12-15. At this point, the Iversen twins became engaged. Alivia’s ace and sister Allie’s kill split the game at 19 apiece. Ukiah desperately struggled to gain enough momentum to win the set and avoid elimination. However, a Carondelet server with a hot hand went on serve to end the game 25-19 and win the match.
Coach Brown and her team certainly have a lot to be proud of. What started out as a wipe-out turned into a hard-fought match. Standouts for the Wildcats that night were: Allie Iversen, who had six kills, nine assists, five digs and an ace; McKenna Bird had nine assists, a kill, and an ace; and then there was Lola Pearson, who played every minute of the game and did wonderfully. She ended up with two kills, a block and four digs. Also of note is Anahi Rodriguez, the sophomore libero who has scored seven times and recorded her highest serve-receipt pass accuracy of the season. Ukiah have had a solid season, marked by an overall improvement in skill, experience and confidence – and without seniors in the team they have the potential to bring their entire squad back next year.