And then there were two.
Eight of San Francisco’s 29 high school volleyball teams qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) State Tournament, but after just two rounds, the City by the Bay has just two representatives still standing.
Tiny San Francisco Waldorf has yet to play a game in Division VI, while University advanced to the Northern California Division II Semifinals by sweeping Branham-San Jose at home on Thursday night in straight sets (25-23, 25-19, 26-24).
“I don’t know what happened tonight,” head coach Bob Hillman deadpanned after the win. “We have so many sick players.”
Mila Chan was too sick to attend school on Thursday, but with both players who would have filled her spot also sick, she still found her way onto the court. In a performance that could only be described as high school volleyball’s equivalent to Michael Jordan’s famed “flu game” from the 1997 NBA Finals, Chan delivered eight kills and six digs to help No. 2 University (27-6) fend off a quality Bruins side.
“I was laying in bed and sleeping all day,” she said. “My mom woke me up, gave me some DayQuil and some Pedialyte, and she asked how I was feeling. I said I could walk straight, and she said, ‘ok, get in the car!’”
While Chan didn’t have the most staggering stat line of any player, she came through in clutch moments. No. 7 Branham (30-5) was serving for the set with a 24-22 lead in Set 3 when Kinnari Atluru and Chan alternated kills to win the final four points. Atluru’s fourth and final ace gave the Red Devils a 25-24 lead, and Chan ensured her team would live on to Saturday, when No. 3 Aragon (26-9) will pay a visit to the Devil Dome.
“Our mentality’s really strong,” Chan said of her team’s ability to fight back. “We don’t give up on each other or lose faith in ourselves. We never give up and say we’ll get the next set.”
The Devils also had to fight back in Set 1, which they trailed for almost its entirety, albeit never by more than three points. They rallied to take a 20-18 lead on a Lucy Welch ace, but found themselves in a 23-22 hole after back-to-back kills by Branham sophomore Giselle Paedon. University secured the opening set with the next three points, with two on Welch kills and the other on a Bruin error.
“We had to create opportunities when we were serving and convert as many of them as we can,” Hillman said. “They had a lot of great hits where all we could say was, ‘ok, we’re gonna side out on the next play.’”
While the hosts trailed for most of Set 1, they were in front for the majority of Set 2, pulling away by taking seven of the final nine points with a mix of Atluru’s power and Dani Lee’s ability to find holes in the defense.
“She was uniquely successful in her choices of when to dump,” Hillman said of Lee, who had 33 assists and four kills. “A few of them were born out of desperation when there were overpasses, and she timed it just right and shoved it down with her right hand. When she’s really on her game, she makes great decisions.”
The Bruins led 21-17 in the third set and thought they had gone up by five, only for the referees to confer and rule that a ball had been tipped off a Branham blocker, giving the point to University, and a rotation penalty made it 21-19. Atluru and sophomore Damysia Walls combined to pull the Devils into a 22-all tie.
“Damysia’s fairly quiet and doesn’t relish the center of attention,” Hillman said of his sophomore, whose kills drew enormous cheers from her teammates. “Sometimes in the huddle, I say, ‘let’s all stare at Damysia, she hates being the center of attention!’ But she’s a very good athlete and newish to volleyball. She has so much potential. When she scores on a high, hard spike, it’s exciting to us.”
“She’s come such a long way from being very shy and timid in the first part of the season,” said Atluru. “Now she’s just this powerhouse hitter who can slam the ball to the 10-foot line, and that just gets us so excited.”
Atluru, a 6-foot-1 junior, had a game-high 17 kills.
“It’s so fun to know that my teammates have trust in me to do what I do and have so much energy when I get a kill,” she said. “The team supporting each other is what makes this game so fun.”
Libero Nicki Gaito led the University defense with 13 digs, while Madeleine Dimitre finished the night with a 2.5 pass rating.
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