The return to normalcy for young athletes in San Francisco has been a slow process, often painstakingly so.
Last year’s inaugural Bruce-Mahoney volleyball match was limited to a crowd of 2,000 as St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral battled it out at Kezar Pavilion, with players wearing masks as chinstraps.
No such restrictions will be in place on Wednesday night, with tickets available to the general public as the second volleyball match in the history of the multi-sport series will be played at the University of San Francisco’s War Memorial Gym.
First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. as the Wildcats and Fightin’ Irish open West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) play and open the best-of-five series in the oldest high school rivalry west of the Rocky Mountains. SHC and SI first met in a rugby match in 1893 and began competing for the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy, named for alumni of each school that died fighting in World War II, in 1947. Girls’ sports were finally added to the series in 2021, extending the series from a best-of-three to a best-of-five with the inclusion of girls volleyball and basketball. SI won the volleyball match in straight sets last year and went on to win the trophy, 3-1. The Wildcats also won the trophy in the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years (the 2019-20 series was tied when the onset of the pandemic canceled the baseball game).
While an experienced SI squad made quick work of the Fightin’ Irish last year, the playing field looks much more level in 2022. The Wildcats graduated seven seniors off last year’s team, which made the Northern California Open Division Semifinals, while SHC had five sophomores playing on the varsity team, led by outside hitter Sarah Caulder.
Now a junior, Caulder and Kate Lau are leaders for a Sacred Heart Cathedral side that’s off to a 5-3 start under first-year head coach Symone Mackiewicz, who played for Margi Beima as a freshman and sophomore before transferring. Beima now serves as an athletic director after coaching the program for 23 years.
“They’re both awesome coaches,” Lau said of Beima and Mackiewicz. “Coach Margi picked an awesome person to take over the program after her.”
The Irish have certainly closed the gap from last year, but they will enter as underdogs by way of a loss to the Wildcats at the Spikefest Tournament on Sept. 3, losing both sets 25-22. As a tournament match, the initial meeting between the two teams was a best two-out-of-three, rather than the standard three-out-of-five, and did not count towards WCAL standings or to the trophy.
St. Ignatius (6-4) also has a first-year head coach in Saga Vae, a Daly City native who has past experience coaching at City College and USF. The Wildcats won six of their first seven matches, including a road victory at Burlingame in front of a spirited crowd, but have lost three straight to Sacred Heart Prep, University and Marin Catholic, all in straight sets, as injuries have piled up. SHC, on the other hand, pushed Marin Catholic to five sets on Sept. 2 and most recently swept Lowell, a team the Wildcats needed four sets to defeat.
Much of Vae’s roster will be playing in the Bruce-Mahoney Game for the first time, but the Wildcats do have experience to draw on with Emma Burns, DePaul commit Nora Mannion, Suraya Newman and Skye Smolinski, who defeated the Caulder-and-Lau led Fightin’ Irish twice in 2021. Whether Mannion, one of SI’s emotional leaders, will see the court on Wednesday night remains to be seen. The senior libero is trying to return from a toe injury, while Newman is expected to re-enter the lineup after recovering from a jammed pinky. The Wildcats are also missing Ilaria Rossetto and Reanna Yadao to ankle sprains, and sophomore Elise Lau is sidelined with a knee injury for at least a month.
The teams will also meet at SHC on Oct. 6. The second leg of the Bruce-Mahoney series is set for Oct. 14, when the two schools meet at Kezar Stadium for their annual football game. The basketball games are tentatively scheduled for Jan. 10 (boys) and Jan. 25 (girls), though those dates are subject to change out of a need to coordinate with USF. The baseball game, which serves as a winner-take-all affair for the trophy if the series is tied at two games apiece, is currently slated for Mar. 18, though availability of Oracle Park and weather can necessitate changes to the schedule.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Symone Mackiewicz spent her first two years of high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]