Moriah Galindo was the first of the seven Calistoga volleyball players to give their Senior Night speech after the Wildcats had upset Credo of Rohnert Park in four sets, 21-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-22 last Thursday.
The seniors had assembled near their team bench, with their North Coast Section Division 6 title banner proudly represented on the southern gym wall, a large grouping of parents, friends and supporters all clumped together inside the Calistoga gym. In the middle of Galindo’s speech the power to the school suddenly went out and without even a second of hesitation the crowd grabbed their phones and the players moved in close. Speeches on paper were being lit by the warm glow of phone lights and players were quickly overcome with emotions.
Players cried and got choked up reading their speeches. Parents beamed with proud smiles, a community coming together to celebrate potentially the best girls athletic class in school history.
“I think that overall this whole situation, this whole event was very bittersweet from the first moment because we’ve grown up together and we saw other seniors have their Senior Night,” said senior Angeli Aquino. “Now it’s our turn and it’s just kind of like that sad moment, but it’s like, ‘Wow we’ve accomplished so much and now... it’s time. I think we’ve grown together as a family and we just all felt the love and that’s why when the power went out we felt like kind of like a family.”
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a hard one, but like with it being Senior Night and having that championship title last year, we knew we had to go out on a big note,” senior Laila Elkeshen said. “Whether it was giving it all we had and lose or giving it all we had to win and luckily we pulled off that win. So it’s a surreal feeling.”
The last time the Wildcats squared off against Credo, the Gryphons soared to a 3-0 victory in quick fashion. Calistoga was without one of their main stars and Hayseel Barrera was playing at 70 percent with a back injury.
This match on Thursday was a battle from start to finish, as the Wildcats took a strong 6-2 lead to start, but Credo countered with a 8-1 run of their own to take the lead. The Gryphons looked the part of a squad that had defeated the Wildcats earlier in the season. They were bigger, seemed to hit harder and were lanky all around. Credo took the lead after their run and barely hung on for a 25-21 victory.
“We kind of started this breathing technique last season, we do this always during our breaks. If we see anyone on the court and they are frowning or sad, we always make sure to like, leave them with a smiling face,” Elkeshen said. “Anything that we can do to keep that positive spirit up on the court and that is always the best thing going into the game.”
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“Honestly, during the season we had this kind of like downslide where we lost players and we just didn’t really feel like a team,” Aquino said. “I felt like today I saw the team from last year that won the championship and I think that’s what really brought us back is our energy. The vibe is just different. I feel like that really helped us and that’s the reason why we won today’s game.”
There was no look of defeat from the Wildcats, as the hosts went to work attempting to regain any momentum. The second set started 4-4 but Calistoga soon took the lead. The Wildcats didn’t overpower the visitors, but used quality ball placement and strong blocks at the net to gain points. The hosts jumped out to a 15-10 advantage and even had their lead at eight points late in the set. The Wildcats almost allowed the Gryphons back into the second game, but Calistoga was able to win 25-22.
“We play the best when we’re relaxed and we’re having fun, and everyone’s Senior Night is like a big thing at this school. It’s just very, not just emotional but like a rite of passage. So there’s a lot that goes emotionally into it,” Calistoga head coach T’Anne Butcher said. “But they just decided that okay we’re not going to be sad, this is not the end of the season, we’re going to celebrate everything we’ve done. So they kind of were able to just put that aside and get out there and get it done.”
Calistoga took command of the night from after tying it at one set apiece and had their best set in match three, which the Wildcats started on a 6-1 run. Once again Credo stormed back to tie the set 8-8, but that would be their last run of the set. Calistoga went on a 10-3 run fueled by strong play by the full Wildcats roster. Andrea Villasenor, one of the only two non-seniors, was key at the net, as the sophomore continuously blocked powerful incoming shots from Credo. Calistoga eventually pulled away, taking the set 25-18.
The fourth set was the most back-and-forth, as the lead changed hands or was tied 13 times. Neither team was able to take a foothold in the game, as the two squads were within three points of each other until the Wildcats jumped out to a six-point lead at 20-14. The teams traded as the Gryphons looked to force a decisive fifth set, but on their fourth match point the Wildcats were finally able to finish off the win, 25-22.
“We were really hoping to win this one, because we’ve always known we could be Credo when we played them last time,” Butcher said. “We had Vanesa Queipo out and Hayseel had a hurt back, so she was only playing front and about 70 percent at best. So we knew we were going to surprise them tonight, but I also knew the girls would be really pumped and we’ve been working at getting ourselves geared up for playoffs. We were just really getting in the mindset like it’s not over till it’s over.”
Calistoga finishes the regular season with a record of 13-7 and were 8-6 in North Central League II play.
“Last year we came into playoffs just wanting to have fun and give it our all, we didn’t think we were going to go as far as we did. So, winning was obviously a very big deal,” Elkeshen said. “This year I think we’re going in the same mentality, we know we’re just going to give it all we have.”