St. Helena High’s volleyball team cruised past visiting the Willits Wolverines in three games, 25-10, 25-6, and 25-18 on Thursday.

It was the final regular-season home game for Saints seniors Paige Preston, Sarah Gamble, Emily O’Kelly, Dana Cronin, Jenna Ramos, Melanie Gouveia, Jennifer Martin, Andrea Gomes and Taylor Smith. Each was honored along with their parents in a pre-game ceremony.

And while all senior nights are unique and poignant, Saints coach Benny Rabanal said this evening had an added significance for him.

“This is kind of a special one,” Rabanal said. “This is actually the biggest senior class I’ve graduated, there are nine of them. I’ve had eight, I’ve had seven, but this is the biggest one. Obviously most of my players I’ve had them since eighth grade, so five years of coaching them and my whole thing is if they enjoy the game they’ll play well, and they’ll keep coming back and so that’s my whole coaching thing. If they’re not having fun, then I’m not doing my job.

“So as long as they’re having fun,” Rabanal continued, “the wins will take care of themselves. Like I said this is my biggest class so I’ve got a challenge next year, and a few years ahead. But it’s a good class, a really good class. They’re smart, grade-wise they’re very good students, so I was fortunate to have them in the program. I will miss them, but every year you see a group go by. You just remember good times.”

Martin had 31 assists. Gamble collected nine kills. Preston collected six kills while Gomes and Gouveia added five kills apiece. Smith had three kills, while Cronin had two kills. Ramos and Erica Crean each recorded a kill. Preston and Gamble each recorded four blocks.

Martin also had a good night behind the service line, with six aces. Smith added three aces while Gamble and Preston had one each. Rabanal also noted the contributions of juniors Liz Butler and Katie Begerow, each of whom has battled injury throughout the season.

Saints beat Middletown for automatic playoff bid

In a match played on Saturday, the Saints defeated Middletown 25-23, 22-25, 25-22, 25-20. The two clubs were tied for the North Central League I title entering the match, but the win allowed the Saints to enter the CIF North Coast Section Div. IV playoffs as the designated league champion.

The Saints garnered the No. 7 seed and were scheduled to host No. 10 Arcata on Wednesday after press time.

Martin (30 assists, one kill, 15 digs, one ace), Gomes (six kills, 10 digs, 10-of-10 serving), Gouveia (seven kills, 9-of-10 serving with one ace), Preston (five kills, one block, 11 digs, 13-of-13 serving), Gamble (11 kills, five blocks, six digs, 11-of-12 serving with one ace), Cronin (three kills, eight digs, 9-of-9 serving), and Crean (one kill, seven digs) paced St. Helena.

Rabanal added that the team played with confidence and high energy. He was also pleased that the Saints limited the number of unforced errors, which in turn kept Middletown from generating any kind of offense.

“We knew where their strength was and worked to contain them,” Rabanal said.

“Defensively, we are working well together. We intimidated them with our blocking and covering well when they got through the block. Offensively, we are hitting well — Jennifer was able to go to any one of our hitters to generate a kill. I am proud of how the girls kept their composure, even when we were down points or the game was close. They knew what they had to do — we’ve been practicing it a lot. The support we got from our family and fans who traveled to Middletown to cheer us on definitely gave us the push we needed to pull off a win.”

Star sports reporter Vince D’Adamo contributed to this story.

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