First-year head coach Bob Hillman claims he didn’t say anything out of the ordinary to his University Red Devils during any timeouts on Tuesday night.
“I always tell them the same thing, which is, ‘let’s make it difficult for the other team,’” he said. “Let’s make sure we serve tough, let’s make sure we take care of the ball if we’re passing or on defense, and let’s get a swing so that it’s never easy for them to score.”
Those simple words had an enormous impact on his team as University swept defending Bay Counties League West Division champion Marin Academy (25-18, 25-20, 25-12) on Tuesday night at home, emerging as the lone unbeaten team in league play.
University (11-2, 5-0 BCL West) trailed 13-10 during the first set, but rattled off a 12-3 run after a timeout, then trailed 11-7 when Hillman called timeout during Set 2. The Wildcats took their largest lead at 14-8 behind the strength of freshman middle blocker Ellie Corsello, but Mila Chan took over from there as the Red Devils finished the set on a 17-6 surge. There was no need for Hillman to ever call a timeout during the third set as his team raced out to a 17-5 lead.
“We came together more after those timeouts,” said Chan, who had a game-high 17 kills, including a dig that carried across the net to clinch the first set for the Red Devils. “We started a little bit slow, but we woke up.”
Chan was the undisputed star on a night where it took outside hitter Kinnari Atluru until the third set to find her groove.
“She was off a little bit in the first two sets, but we made sure to keep her involved,” said Hillman, who played on a national runner-up men’s team at Stanford. “We made sure her teammates knew we always had confidence in her. She still helped the team with her blocking, with her passing and with her defense. If she’s not killing every ball, there are a lot of areas in which she’s still valuable to the team.”
With Atluru and Chan both operating at full capacity during the final set, there was no shot at a comeback for Marin Academy (7-9, 2-1). The Wildcats won the league in 2021, ending a run of four straight Red Devils championships, and advanced to the North Coast Section (NCS) Division 4 Championship before falling to perennial power Cardinal Newman.
“They absolutely owned us last year,” Hillman said when asked about the significance of the win.
University largely stuck with a seven-woman rotation, getting 11 digs from Madeline Dimitre, 37 assists from Dani Lee and 17 digs from libero Nicki Gaito.
The Red Devils host Lowell (9-7) in a non-league affair at 6 p.m. on Thursday. They’ll resume BCL West play on Friday with a trip to the North Bay to take on San Domenico (3-9, 1-4).
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]