For better and for worse, the St. Ignatius Wildcats looked like a young team in Tuesday night’s California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Northern California Division I First Round matchup with Marin Catholic.
That youth was on display in its best form in the first two sets with ninth-seeded SI trading blows with Marin Catholic (25-10), but it was also evident in the final two sets as the visitors committed a series of errors and never found a way to string together a run against their eighth-seeded foes, also named the Wildcats, in a season-ending defeat (25-21, 19-25, 25-15, 25-15).
“On serving, our game plan worked out for the first two sets, but MC picked up the serve receive a lot better with a couple of the young girls out there,” first-year head coach Saga Vae said after a season-ending defeat.
St. Ignatius (15-18) ran out a younger lineup than had seen the floor for much of the regular season, opting for upside over experience, including two sophomores who had started the year on the junior varsity team.
“It’s the time of your season where you’re putting out the better of the girls and what’s clicking for the team,” Vae said.
While injuries kept seniors Emma Burns and Mariel Rocca from seeing the floor, sophomores Reese Murphy and Criya Mickles saw significant time. Murphy, a middle hitter, was a midseason call-up, while Mickles, who mainly played the right side, only came up in the last two weeks. Just three seniors, Liana Mei, Nora Mannion and Skye Smolinski, were on the floor for the bulk of the match.
Much of SI’s best play came with Mannion, a DePaul commit, serving in Set 2, and she served as a reliable passer, as she had done all season.
After a Mickles kill gave the visitors the second set, though, MC ran away.
“They were bringing a lot of power in those last two sets, and we weren’t in rhythm,” Mannion said.
Marin Catholic got 10 kills from Brooke Brilliant, nine from Mia Clayton and eight from Emily Greene, and played stellar defense to complement the hard-hitting trio in the final two sets. A long rally with terrific saves by Clayton, Greene and Molly Harrison that gave the hosts a 21-12 lead in the final set effectively put the match out of reach.
After never finding a way to climb out of an early 6-1 hole in Set 3, SI had led 9-4 in Set 4, forcing an early MC timeout, but the hosts responded with three straight points out of the timeout, then scored seven in a row to go up 14-10. When Marin was able to dig a pair of Mickles shots, the writing was on the wall.
With the likes of Mickles, Murphy, Suraya Newman, Alice Taylor and Logan Stern returning next season, expectations will be high for St. Ignatius, but replacing Mannion will be especially difficult, both for her defensive abilities and her leadership.
“Thank God we had her,” Vae said. “If she ever struggled, it was because she was trying to do too much and cover everyone else, which isn’t such a bad problem to have.”
Marin Catholic, who was upset in the first round of last year’s Open Division tournament by St. Francis after holding the top spot in Northern California all season, moves on to face top-seeded Whitney-Rocklin (31-3) on Thursday in another Wildcats vs. Wildcats affair.
Fourteenth-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral (21-12) looked to be on the verge of a colossal upset when the Fightin’ Irish led No. 3 St. Mary’s-Stockton 18-7 in the third set, but the host Rams managed to win Set 3 behind a furious rally, then scratched out a win in Set 4 to claim the match (25-19, 11-25, 25-23, 25-23). St. Mary’s improved to 25-8 on the season.
In Division II, No. 2 University (26-6) dispatched 15th-seeded Buchanan-Clovis (28-17) in four sets (25-16, 25-17, 22-25, 25-19). The Red Devils will host No. 7 Branham-San Jose (30-4) on Thursday.
Hopes of a an all-San Francisco second round matchup in Division IV between Urban and Lowell were dashed when the Cardinals fell in four sets (25-20, 25-15, 24-26, 25-17) to ninth-seeded Ripon Christian (31-6). Lowell finishes the season at 25-13. Top-seeded Urban (19-8) will be back at home on Thursday after handling Orland (22-11) in straight sets (25-16, 25-14, 25-16).
There’s a chance for the Blues to host a crosstown matchup on Saturday should they and No. 12 Balboa (27-7) both win on Thursday night. The Buccaneers emerged with a four-set victory (26-24, 23-25, 25-17, 25-20) at No. 5 Sutter (28-6-1). After a successful 127-mile trip on Tuesday, Balboa will have an even longer journey on Thursday, with a 212-mile journey to fourth-seeded West Valley (28-6). The Eagles are located in Cottonwood, between Red Bluff and Redding.
A long road trip wasn’t so successful for Bay (20-5). The Breakers, seeded 14th in Division IV, lost in straight sets (25-15, 25-17, 25-22) at No. 3 Sonora (27-6).
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