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University swept in section championship match by top-seeded Branson

University outside hitter Kinnari Atluru (11) reacts to an error while Branson's Cayman Stein and Elena Fisher (6) celebrate during the third set of the Red Devils' loss to the Bulls in the North Coast Section Division 3 Championship in Ross on Nov. 5, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Despite being soundly beaten by top-seeded Branson in straight sets (25-16, 25-14, 25-16) in Saturday’s North Coast Section (NCS) Division 3 Championship, the University Red Devils left Marin County on Saturday night with the same happy-go-lucky attitude that they had entered with.

“Even though losing a match like that was frustrating, they have the maturity to remind themselves of what they’ve accomplished to get to this moment,” head coach Bob Hillman said.

University (25-6) played an uncharacteristically sloppy game, losing a best-of-five match for just the second time all season, but even if the Red Devils had brought their A game, it may not have been enough. The Bulls were simply dominant en route to their 12th section championship.

The walls of Branson’s tiny gym will need to accommodate yet another banner. The Bulls won their first NCS volleyball title in 2009 and went on to win eight straight in Division 5. They were elevated to Division 4 in 2016 and won two of three titles there, falling short to Lick-Wilmerding in 2017. The Bulls have now played in three Division 3 tournaments (no tournament was held in the 2020-21 school year), and they’ve come out as champions every time. Conversely, this was University’s first venture into the Division 3 field.

“Last year, we lost in the semis of Division 4, and this year, we were in the finals of Division 3,” Hillman said when asked why his team’s mood wasn’t more sour.

In addition to their superior size, power and passing, the Bulls seemed to just have luck on their side.

“They were scoring on a lot of weird plays,” Hillman said. “There was a set way outside the antenna, she managed some little tip and she waited long enough that our block was coming down, and there was really no play we could make on it.”

Branson outside hitter Sadie Snipes tries to tap the ball over University's Dani Lee (17) during the first set of the Bulls' sweep of the Red Devils in the North Coast Section Division 3 Championship in Ross on Nov. 5, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Sadie Snipes led Branson (18-10) with 16 kills and four aces, while Elena Fisher recorded 12. Lauren Dignan, appropriately, had 24 digs.

The Bulls led 10-1 in the opening set before University could muster any sort of response, and though the Red Devils cut the lead to 11-8, Branson won eight of the next 11 points. The home side led 10-5 and 22-10 in Set 2, and the Devils couldn’t leverage any of the momentum they created from winning three consecutive points late in the set into any sort of growth in Set 3, struggling to serve on the few occasions they had any opportunity to go on a run.

“If we miss a bunch of serves, we often get a bunch of aces to make up for it,” Hillman said. “We try for a 1-to-1 ratio of aces to errors, and tonight we got zero aces.”

Against a far larger opponent, University’s defense hardly fared any better.

“Where we play our defender normally wasn’t working. In the other match that I saw them play, they were running their outside hitters into the middle. Tonight, they ran them all the way to the pins and took advantage of our smaller blockers, especially on the right side,” Hillman said. “We should have asked our middle back to take a step or two to the right or possibly have asked our right back to cover tips. I’m going to lose some sleep over that tonight.”

University’s season will continue in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Tournament. The Red Devils were played in Division II and given the No. 2 seed. They’ll host Buchanan-Clovis at 6 p.m. Tuesday.